In any design scheme, artwork is the frosting on the cake. It provides the color, texture, pattern and, most importantly, the personality that turns an ordinary house into a warm and inviting home. Primitive artwork adds all of those elements along with a sense of history and a look into our past. But what is primitive artwork and how is it different from other artwork?
Defining primitive artwork
Primitive artwork is most often thought of as handcrafted, less than perfect pieces. A painting, for example, does not meet the standards of a classic renaissance, abstract or expressionist painting. In a primitive piece, the lines are crude, the scale is off and the proportion may be non-existent. But that is what gives it its charm. Other primitive artwork styles include:
- Folk art. Folk art consists of hand crafted pieces that represent local culture, history, costumes, etc. It may include carvings of animals, buildings, and people; or it might represent a specific period in time. Tramp art, for example, includes simple frames and boxes that were made by the “tramps” during the depression. Materials that were used were items that were free and easy to find such as wooden sticks or metal cans and bottle caps. These were put together in sometimes intricate patterns and designs and are highly collectible today.
- Primitivism. This is an actual term that seeks to describe early pieces that depicted the lifestyle of primitive cultures through the inclusion of primitive motifs, clothing, etc. A fine example of this is Paul Gauguin’s depiction of life in Tahiti through his now famous paintings. In other words, artists “borrow” elements used in ancient art to create newer, more modern art.
- Naïve art is an accepted form of art that Wikipedia defines as “…characterized by a childlike simplicity in its subject matter and technique.” Many view this style of primitive art as being created by unskilled artists, when, in fact, it requires a great deal of talent to create this type of art. These sometimes whimsical paintings will add color and interest to a country home.
- Crafts. Crafts can be considered artwork, especially in a primitive environment. The very nature of a craft is that it is hand made. Crafts range from actual paintings to needlework, pottery and ceramic items, hand sewn dolls, woven baskets, hand hooked rugs and weavings. Primitive crafts include hand milled soaps, candles, baskets, needlework, and carved wooden pieces.
- The term Outsider art came about in the mid twentieth century and was used to describe art created by patients in an insane asylum. Today the meaning more often refers to naïve or brut art that is created outside the standards of the conventional art world and less to do with the mentally ill.
Sources for primitive art
Primitive art pieces can be purchased at craft fairs, art festivals, thrift shops, flea markets and, for very expensive items, through an art gallery. Even garage and estate sales and your grandparent’s attic can produce interesting, and maybe valuable pieces that will enhance your primitive decor. Museum stores are another great source for reproductions of primitive art and a visit to the museum may even provide you with a glimpse of the “real thing” before you purchase the reproduction. You may want to educate yourself on the value of certain items you are interested in before you begin your search. This will help insure that you are getting a legitimate item at the best value available.
What do Chicago and primitive art have in common?
Chicago has a history of supporting the primitive arts that go back to the discovery of outsider art in the late 1940’s. French artist Jean DuBuffet coined the phrase outsider art and began to amass his own personal collection that now exceeds thousands of pieces and is permanently housed in Switzerland. In the early 1950’s the Arts Club of Chicago featured DuBuffet’s writings on this topic. The Arts Club has also featured many primitive displays since it’s inception in 1918 including American Primitive Paintings in 1943, Accent Rugs designed by American Painters in 1955 and Primitive Paintings from the Pacific, the Americas and Africa in 1964.
Chicago is also the home of the Primitive Works Gallery located in the Fulton River District. This gallery is home to thousands of primitive art pieces that have been gathered from around the globe. Collections include furniture, art and artifacts, textiles and other items. They also offer their own collection of primitive style furniture and accessories that have been inspired by ancient designs. These items can be purchased via the gallery’s in-house design team.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder when it comes to primitive artwork. You may prefer the colorful and whimsical folk art designs of past cultures or the history associated with a handcrafted wooden bowl, for example. The unusual facts associated with tramp or outsider art may attract your attention or a quiet country sampler may be the answer for you. Choose carefully and whatever type of primitive art you choose for your home is certain to provide you with enjoyment for years to come.