Marginal Characters in Rural Wonderlands: The Naïve Art of Mijo Kovačić

On Art and Aesthetics

Mijo Kovačić

When I first encountered the work of Croatian artist Mijo Kovačić, it seemed to me a mix of Pieter Bruegel the Elder (c. 1525-1530–1569) and medieval European manuscripts. Like the former, the oil-on-glass images feature romanticised depictions of rural landscapes, and like the latter, they are bright and colourful, as though lit from within.

Kovačić—who was born in 1935 in the Podravina hamlet of Gornja Šuma—belongs to the Hlebine School of 20th century Croatian art. This is a term applied to a group of naive painters working in or around the village of Hlebine, near the Hungarian border, from about 1930.

The life portrayed in Kovačić’s paintings is harsh and difficult but the artist makes up for the poverty of his characters by highlighting the surrounding flora and fauna. True wealth here lies in the fish of the river, the strawberries in the field, even in the dry oak…

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