It’s always a good idea to visit the birthplace of Croatian naive art, but last weekend in August makes it absolutely perfect. That’s when an immersive event called Walk Through Hlebine takes place. This August, the village was as colourful and friendly as can be.
Yes, a village. The most famous Croatian art movement comes from a village, where a group of authors started an art movement, world-known as Hlebine School, famous for the difficult technique of painting with oil on glass.
If you don’t know much about art techniques, you’ve probably gone through the previous sentence without thinking about it much. If you’ve ever seen the photos of naive art somewhere in the brochures, you might even feel a certain repulsion towards the painted characters. When I was a kid, I was literally afraid of them. They were staring at me from the walls, with their big bare feet like Hobbits, always chopping the woods or working in fields – there is always an intimidating tool in their hands, someone with a scary wrinkled face and a hat that’s too small is binge-drinking straight from a huge jug and there’s a tiny forest in the back with no leaves because it’s winter, but it looks like it burned in flames… I was terrified of those paintings, to tell you the truth.
But once I found out that many important Croatian naive art painters were proud farmers without true art education… that they painted on the other side of the glass than the one we see… that by the end of their process, all you see on the painted side is a huge stain, while the viewer gets to see incredible scenery… that they paint backwards because the side they paint on is opposite to the one you’ll see… that they paint in layers, and each layer takes days to dry… that it sometimes takes months to finish the painting… that it’s hard to correct a mistake, because you would have to scratch everything off… that it’s fiscally hard for the artists to keep turning the big formats when they are checking the progress…. when you know all this, and learn more and more unique details about Croatian naive art… and you find yourself in front of some of the great works of the first generations of artists… you end up completely drawn in and mesmerised by their dedication and complexity of the process. And once you start carefully watching a painting, analysing the process behind it, all of the sudden the symbolism overwhelms you and you fully understand why did the world go crazy about those first artists from a small Croatian village.
Hlebine School of naive art is one of the most unique modern Croatian cultural products, if not the most unique one. It has left a deep trace in Croatian identity, especially in its cradle. That’s why it’s always a good idea to visit Hlebine. You can stop by the Gallery of Naive Art and Gallery Josip Generalić to join some masterpieces anytime you visit. If you’re lucky, some of the living followers of the Hlebine school will invite you to their studios as well.
If you stop by during the last weekend of August, you will definitely get to talk to many artists and other villagers who enthusiastically take part in the Walk Through Hlebine event. The main event takes place at the Želimorski family’s Stari zanati (Old crafts) . If you need some help getting around, friendly and knowledgeable staff of local tourism board will undoubtedly help you out.
Enjoy the photo gallery from the 2020 event when the whole village participated in this celebration of art and traditional crafts.