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Sunday, March 15, 2015

Radi Nedelchev

This Is Life, Radi Nedelchev
Facing Horses, Chauvet Cave
One of my goals in writing here daily is to correct people's oversimplified misinterpretations regarding all aspects of art. Some writers call it simply debunking myths. That's a clever way to put it, but probably stretches the definition of "myth" somewhat. For instance, when we think about folk art, Americans, and probably other nationalities as well, think first, foremost, and perhaps exclusively of their own country's rich heritage of folk art. That is, if they even know what folk art is (sometimes referred to as naïve art). I suppose such narrow-mindedness is natural but, as suggested at the beginning, it's an oversimplified misinterpretation. True Folk Art, that is, art made by self-taught or artists without formal, or professional training, has been around since the first cave man (right) daubed moistened soot onto the rock walls of his primitive abode to depict that which was most important to him (or her). Usually they chose to depict hunting wild animals and their own search of food and survival.
Golden Harvest, 2002, Radi Nedelchev
Radi Nedelchev
The Bulgarian painter, Radi Nedelchev is no cave man, but he is largely (but not totally), untrained. Around 1959 he spent some time studying at a new state art school in Rousse (northern border of Bulgaria on the Danube River). After some schooling, he and a friend took off on a two-year trek encompassing most of the rural areas of his country at a time when Communist collectivization was starting to have a radical effect upon the peasant lifestyle he encountered. They recorded on canvas a dying way of life, similar to his Golden Harvest (above) painted many years later in 2002. In choosing to eschew most of the skills they may have acquired in the area of Realism for a more non-illusional, two-dimensional approach, they could concentrated on both the desperately difficult way of life endured by those they encountered. Many were living in a manner dating from more than a hundred years in the past. In a similar manner, Nedelchev also depicted the joyous community gatherings and festivals which made their humble lives worthwhile (below).
Early in the Morning, 2006, Radi Nedelchev
The Fair from My childhood,
1999, Radi Nedelchev
Nedelchev, in that he is not without academic training, is not a true Folk Artist, his style considered to be "pseudo naïve"' or "faux naïve," which describes an artist working in a self-consciously primitive manner. Henri Rousseau or Alfred Wallis were naïve, or sometimes called "primitive" artists for their lack of formal art training. Is it dishonest for an academically trained painter to work in a naïve or primitive style? Some might see it that way, but in fact, an artist's style falls under the realm of creative freedom of expression. Just as an artist chooses Impressionism even though he or she can also paint in an abstract manner or a realistic manner, the same stylistic choice applies to Folk Art. In fact, it's an excellent choice if artists wish to render a cultural impression, rich in detail, but without the traditional baggage of rigid rules and regulations, which might intimidate the artists in telling their colorful narrative. The two paintings below illustrate what I mean. The left one is by Nedelchev, the one on the right is by an British artist. Once Realism is no longer part of the equation the artist's choices expand to include Folk Art, even Abstract Expressionism.
Winter Night (left), 1971, Radi Nedelchev.
Gate Near Youlgreave, Derbyshire (right) Andrew Macara,
During the mid-1960s, Nedelchev began to have regular exhibitions of his work both in Bulgaria and later in Geneva, Paris, Munich, Prague, Moscow, Tokyo, Zagreb, Athens, Montreal, and Washington, D.C. Nedelchev had offers of help in moving to the West and starting a new life with freer access to galleries, media, and opportunities to broaden his audience. Yet that would be deserting the key element of rural Bulgarian life which gave his work such authenticity, despite his consciously primitive style. Instead, Nedelchev remained in his homeland despite the nearly non-existent means of building his career. However, the West found Nedelchev. His art became collectible. His work found its way into the collection of the Krupp Corporation in Germany, as well as those of many major players in countries as far away as India and China. For his native loyalty, the Union of Bulgarian Artists awarded Nedelchev The Order of Cyril and Methodius 1st class, the highest prize for art and culture in Bulgaria. 

Blue Dream,1983, Radi Nedelchev, an expressionistic fantasy work
only slightly resembling the stereotypical tradition Folk Art.


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