Dreamy, pastoral, surreal, fantastical, utopian. These describe the landscapes of artist Ivan Rabuzin. He was born on March 27, 1921 in a village called Ključ near the town of Novi Marof in Varaždin County. Today just under 15,000 residents live in Novi Marof where the Kulturni Centar Ivan Rabuzin is celebrating the hundredth anniversary of his birth.
During World War II Rabuzin attended carpentry school in Zagreb. He achieved master carpenter status, and in 1947 he returned to Novi Marof to work in a joinery there. Rabuzin painted on the side and briefly practiced at an evening art school for workers. He held his first exhibition in 1956 and by 1963 he was a recognized Croatian Naive artist linked to the tradition of painters from the Hlebine School. Hlebine is a town south of Novi Marof also near the Hungarian border—the region where Croatian Naive Art emerged and continues to flourish.
Hlebine naive artists were peasants and working people, mostly self-taught, mostly men. The Hlebine School was founded by artist Krsto Hegedušić in 1930, comprised of artists who lived in the same area and practiced the same painting method. Often farmers, Hlebine artists followed the rhythm of the seasons painting during their free time. They used a complex, reverse technique with oil paints on glass. They were known use old window panes to create visual narratives of everyday life, hidden natural wonders and childhood. Sometimes paintings had multiple artists who worked in turn. Another Ivan, Ivan Generalić (1914-1992) is a leading figure of the Hlebine school. Ivan Rabuzin’s work reflects independence, some formal training and broader European influences. He was active in politics serving as a member of The Croatian Parliament and advocating for cultural heritage preservation in the Croatian Dragon Fraternity.
Rabuzin did not paint on glass. He did not paint figures but used light, bright colors, and spherical shapes with exaggerated proportions. Semi-abstracted flowers, trees and clouds dwarf built environments. His landscapes are curiously devoid of animal/human life. The Croatian Museum of Naive Art in Zagreb displays Rabuzin’s work from their permanent collection in physical and online galleries–and hosts public programs with art historians. His work is exhibited all over the world—in Paris, London, at the Smithsonian, in Milwaukee and Chicago.
Rabuzin designs can be found on theater curtains in Kyoto and Toyko, Japan (where his work is displayed in permanent and temporary museum exhibitions), and on Rosenthal porcelain seen here on a teapot titled Suomi.
Rabuzin’s work celebrates nature. It is a little mysterious and often decribed as lyrical. Trees and forests are signature themes. Razubin’s art may be categorized as outsider or folk, but for me this definition is limiting. His talent and vision are unique, timeless and timely.