AN ODE TO JOY
There is no wealth but life
AN ODE TO JOY
Cover: Windswept live oak and rising full moon Photograph: Diane Miller/Monsoon Image
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Article image credit: Aleja, painting by Ivan Rabuzin
The Croatian artist Ivan Rabuzin depicts a life in which only beauty exists.
VAN RABUZIN IS a self-taught artist renowned as one of the foremost lyrical painters of the 20th century. He was born in 1921 in Croatia. After he left elementary school, he learned the trade of carpentry, achieving master level at the Craft School in Zagreb, and from 1950 to 1963 he worked in a joinery firm.
Rabuzin’s earliest drawings and paintings date from the mid-1940s and display an academic and realistic treatment of his subjects and a striving for impressionist effects. He began to exhibit his work in 1956. In 1959 he discovered the theme of lyrical landscapes and with it his own visual language. Finding archetypal symbols in the surrounding countryside, he began to create personal and highly recognisable works. He found the utmost simplicity, concision and perfection in the sphere and the circle, which were to become his symbols of the absolute, symbols of completeness.
Landscapes and flowers constitute Rabuzin’s main themes, linked one to another in his paintings almost without distinction. It is through the use of scale and colour that he suggests where the focus of a painting should lie. The size of each element never depends upon perspective, but upon its relative significance in his imagination. Thus Rabuzin’s flowers, which are very large in comparison with the rest of a painting, take on specific and, commonly, symbolic values. To Rabuzin the flower is not just a symbol for the sun, but a representation of life and peaceful accord. His pictures are exhilarating paradises of an all-embracing harmony and tranquillity; they express an extremely subtle serenity and optimism; they are a celebration of life and an ode to joy.
Everything in Rabuzin’s pictures is recognisable – the meadows, flowers, forests, hills, clouds – but the way in which he portrays them, enlarges them or reduces them makes their organisation and structure appear non-realistic. His style gradually evolved towards the rendering of simpler, more global forms. In doing so he refined everything, fitted it into a framework of absolute order and defined it by symmetry and harmony. As his visual language developed, his work began to embody a feeling of cosmic wholeness: his paintings are suggestive of spatial infinity, total tranquillity and timelessness.
Rabuzin presents a clear vision of a harmonious universe. He speaks of a life in which only beauty exists. Everything in his pictures is illuminated and brilliant; everything is sprouting, flourishing, growing. Each image is full of energy and life, and warmth radiates from it all – as if summer lasted for ever in this world, with the sky a bright blue and the sun shining above. These paintings are then hymns to life, images that celebrate the joy of existing. For all of this, Rabuzin is an authentic alchemist, a magus, taking the ordinary, the everyday and turning it into a gemstone. Although he paints the Earthly, in his works everything takes on the astral: in his hands the ordinary and the ubiquitous are
transformed into the exalted, the in-explicable and the miraculous.
Rabuzin’s painting portrays the complete opposite of the tragic and discordant world in which we live; it represents the victory of human vision of happiness, and hope over harsh and bloody reality. The essence of this art is the antithesis of everything that is destructive, nihilistic and hopeless. Rabuzin has never turned his own doubts into negativity; on the contrary, he expresses everywhere an infinite trust in life. In place of the prevailing chaos, alienation and disaster he offers harmony, the bliss of peace, a state of grace and a sense
Critics have always wondered how Rabuzin’s work manages to retain its fascination, ranging as it does constantly within the same framework of form and visual language. There is just one answer: in painting, Rabuzin always finds his own truth anew: he constantly and unreservedly listens to and follows his own inner voice.
Vladimir Crnkovic is a Croatian art historian and the director of the Croatian Museum of Naive Art, Zagreb.
His pictures are exhilarating paradises of an all-embracing harmony and tranquillity
These paintings are hymns to life, images that celebrate the joy of existing.