Croatia was part of the political and cultural mish-mash of the former Yugoslavia, and for years toiled under a restrictive, and often punitive, dictatorship. It’s hard to believe in such a closed and suppressed society, that art could flourish — but it did, and recent years have brought both the art and artists to the attention of people around the world.

The Croatian Naive Art Gallery & Museum collection opened in St. Petersburg (Florida) recently, exclusively featuring the intricate Croatian reverse glass paintings. I’ve seen these painting before, and always thought that they were Russian, but never really understood the art medium.

Think of this as painting in reverse. The artist paints with oils on the reverse side of a piece of glass, doing everything backwards from a typical painting. The paintings is done in stages, and in the reverse order of how it would be usually be done, starting with the signature, and working backward through the main image and foreground, and then the background. The artist has to learn to make their signature backwards, in order that it can be read correctly when viewed through the glass.

Originally, this art was probably a form of protest art, as it frequently depicted the social injustices of the repressive government. The themes were decisively anti-government, and this led to the art form being banned for a number of years. Not surprisingly, the art movement went underground and the tradition of reverse painting continued, eventually expanding into more diverse themes.

The first thing that struck me about this work was the vividness and richness of the colors. That drew me in for a closer look at the details of the work, and finally, to the head-scratching question: “How do they do that?”

The Croatian Naive Art Gallery & Museum Collection is located in the first floor retail area of the Parkshore Plaza condominiums at 300 Beach Drive NE #128 (corner of Beach Drive and 3rd Avenue NE) in St Petersburg, Florida. Hours are Monday – Saturday, 10 am – 9 pm, and Sunday, noon – 6 pm.

The Museum has an extensive collections of the Masters of the art form, and the gallery has a great selections of works available for purchase, the majority of which are priced in the $1,000-3,000 range.

Photo credit: “Drinking Life Away” by Djuro Popec, from the museum at the Croatian Naive Art Gallery & Museum



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