Ivan Rabuzin (Ključ, by Novi Marof, March 27, 1921 – Varaždin, December 18, 2008) was born into a mining family. He attended elementary school in Remetinec, and learned the trade of carpenter in Zagreb and Zemun. He completed the master craftsman department of the Trades School in Zagreb in 1947. He worked as a carpenter from 1950 to 1963. Rabuzin started drawing in 1944 and painting in 1945; in 1946/1947, he attended evening classes in drawing taught by Kosta Angeli Radovani. This early involvement in art was marked by his realist and mimetic endeavours, while some of the heritage of post-Impressionism can also be seen.
In 1958 he started to work with the Gallery of Primitive Art in Zagreb, and in 1959 he found his own personal style, theme and poetics (Orehovec Hills, 1959, CMNA; Možđenec Woods, 1959, CMNA). From that time on he painted recognisable lyrical and idealised landscapes, founded on the sequencing of spheres and circular forms, and giving off a great deal of optimism and spirituality. The critics M. Bašičević (then a curator at the GPA) and R. Putar are to be credited with having discovered Rabuzin and establishing his reputation. He achieved great success with his very first solo exhibition in 1960 in the Gallery of Primitive Art in Zagreb. The modernity of his idiom was recognised by members of the avant-garde group Gorgona, which in 1961 had a solo show for him in the group’s own Šira Gallery in Zagreb. After an exhibition in the Mona Lisa Gallery in Paris in 1963, Rabuzin went professional and entirely devoted himself to art.
All of his compositions were founded on a few fundamental motifs: the Sun, clouds, hillocks, trees and flowers, to which he occasionally added little cottages. Symmetry and geometry prevail, expressions of the idea of order, peace and harmony (My Homeland, 1961, CMNA; Woods, 1962, CMNA; Big Cloud, 1966; Big Wood, 1966, CMNA; Big Garden, 1967). "According to his way of looking at things, all phenomena are brought down to simple geometrical forms: the spherical hillocks are strengthened with the radiant planes of the ploughed fields, the villages are skirted with conical forms, and everywhere in the order of things concentric directions can be discerned" (V. Horvat Pintarić, 1964).
The artist’s basic and privileged form is the circle, which has the significance of perfection, cyclical movement, without beginning or end (Green Woods, 1965, CMNA; Clouds, 1979, Museum of Naïve and Marginal Art, Jagodina).
So heavily stylised, so geometrical and pared-down are his works that they sometimes straddle the recognisable and the abstract (On the Hills – Primeval Forest, 1960, CMNA; Landscape with Seven Hills, 1966; Red Winter, 1966). Although he was inspired in painting landscapes by the real hills, woods, fields and vegetation of Zagorje, the results are always imagined visions, with the elements and size relationships freely deployed (River, 1960, CMNA; The Old Bednja, 1961; Way to the Hills, 1964; Green Fields, 1958; A Field in the Hills, 1968; Cifrek’s Hillock, 1970, CMNA).
The flowers are often brought out by their colour, location in painting or their size, their symbolic importance and significance thus being brought out (Avenue, 1962, CMNA; White Flower, 1962, MG, Zagreb; Islands, 1963, CMNA; Three Flowers, 1963, HMNA; Night Flowers, 1981) and sometimes they are merged with the hills, clouds and Sun that they mimic (My World, 1962, CMNA; Sun and Flower, 1967; A Flower on the Hill, 1969).
The Sun motif has great importance as source of light, heat and life, and the radiant energy of the sun is a symbol of enlightenment (Dawn, 1963, CMNA). When Rabuzin brings the Sun down to earth and makes it equal in height and size to the hills, he is expressing his humanist principles (Approach to My Home, 1962; Grounded Sun, 1987, CMNA). In addition to the Sun, he often painted other phenomena in nature – the flowers and hills – as if they too were giving off light, which he represented with the bright little dots that they disseminate.
Characteristic of the whole of Rabuzin’s oeuvre are the round soft forms and light colours that suggest a lyrical tenderness. He achieves a refined colouring with numerous nuances and practically imperceptible gradations of colour. In some of the elements of the painting, he will sometimes subtract the objective local hue and provide a new colour for the sake of harmony and balance in the composition, for the sake of rhythm.
He most often painted with oil paints on canvas, but also from time to time did work in watercolours, drawings and prints (etching and screen printing). In his watercolours (Woods, 1962, CMNA; Round Wood, 1984) and in his watercoloured etchings, Rabuzin’s lyrical sensibility is even more pronounced than in his oils, for the transparency of the actual technique suits him so well. Most often he contrasts warm and cold colours and thus brings out the elements that are particularly important and dear to him.
Particularly coming to the fore in the drawings are the structures and rhythm of the forms represented (Hillocks, 1960, CMNA; Primeval Forest, 1960, CMNA; Dandelions, 1975); they are regularly built of pure, slender lines with no hatching.
The print for Rabuzin was a way to transfer the inventions of painting and drawing into a new medium. The possibility for experimentation offered by intaglio print techniques never interested him very profoundly; the concept, content and spirituality of a work were always much more important to him (Grounded Sun, 1987, CMNA; Row of Trees, 1986; Small Wood, 1988; Forest Flower, 1989). He issued eight independent print portfolios (Zagreb 1973, screen prints with a preface by V. Crnković; Milan 1973, lithoserigraphs, with verses by R. Carrieri; Milan 1979, screen prints, with a preface by V. Horvat Pintarić; Zagreb 1985, screen prints, with a preface by J. Škunca; Malmö 1988, lithoserigraphs, with a preface by G. Bråhammar and verses by A. Lundkvist; Lugano 1989, serigraphs, with verses by G. Mascioni; Ključ 1996, watercoloured etchings with a preface by V. Crnković; Zagreb 1998, offset reproductions and an etching with a preface by V. Crnković). He also took part in 14 portfolios by groups of artists.
The German porcelain works Rosenthal engaged him in 1976, alongside Vasarely and Dali, to design ornaments for their ware. At the beginning of the 1980s he started working with the French tapestry works La Lisse d’Aubusson. And then in 1980 his drawings provided the motifs for the front curtain of the Takarazuka Theatre in Tokyo; in 1983, a tapestry after his design was made for the lecture hall of the Saitama Museum of Modern Art in Urawa, also Japan.
He tried his hand as a set designer (Loptica-hopsica [Jumping Ball], Student Centre Chamber Theatre, Zagreb, 1967; Krapina Festival 1970, Festival of Kaikavian Songs, Krapina 1970; Two Maples, Youth Theatre, Zagreb, 1972; From My Hills, CNT, Zagreb 12973; Operetta, Slovene National Theatre, Ljubljana, 1974; Gingerbread heart, CNT, Zagreb, 1975; Gastarbeiter, National Theatre, Banja Luka, 1976; Devil in the Village, CNT, Split, 1986; Ero the Jester, CNT, Osijek, 1990) and at the end of the nineties as a designer of decorative fabrics and furniture.
He illustrated children’s books by Gustav Krklec (Under the Gubec Linden, Zagreb, 1977) and Ante Gardaš (Sunčana’s Flower, Zagreb, 1990). Two collections of poems have been dedicated to him (Eyes of Paradise / Hommage à Rabuzin, a group of authors, Ključ, 1991; Hommage à mon ami, B. Pavlović, Zagreb, 1993).
He published an illustrated collection of autobiographical accounts and poems called Sunday Jottings, 1944-1994 (1994) and a collection of poems, Ivan Rabuzin / Poems and Images (2001).
He was twice elected member of the Croatian Parliament (1993-1999).
He stopped painting in 2002 after he fell seriously ill.
His works are to be found in the holdings of the Croatian Museum of Naïve Art, Zagreb; the Modern Gallery in Zagreb; Museum Charlotte Zander, Bönnigheim; Musée International d'Art Naïf Anatole Jakovsky, Nice; Museum am Ostwall, Dortmund; Museum of Contemporary Art, Belgrade; Ilijanum Museum of Naïve Art, Šid; Museum of Naïve and Marginal Art, Jagodina.
Fourteen monographs have been printed about his work, and 11 films have been produced. He has had more than a hundred solo exhibitions, and taken part in several hundred collective shows. He won a Varaždin County Lifetime Achievement Prize in 1996.
Ivan Rabuzin is a "classic of Croatian modern art and the world’s Naïve, one of the greatest lyrical painters of the 20th century" (V. Crnković, 2012); "alone in Naïve painting he literally transforms all levels of the traditional painting - from the smallest structural particular (the dot of paint) to the organic compositional whole" (R. Ivančević, 1988). He was very early on recognised as "the most interesting phenomenon among the 'primitives' within our horizons" (R. Putar, 1960) and "one of the most distinctively original of naïve painters" (B. Kelemen, 1966) and is considered "the most progressive naïve painter in the country, without doubt of world importance" (D. Glavan and Z. Kuzmić, 1970). Rabuzin is "one of the greatest world masters of the idyll" (T. Šola, 1986) and "one of those few contemporary painters who have given to the whole of their productions such a personal and always recognisable measure that they deserve to see their name turn into an attribute" (T. Maroević,1987).
International reviewers assessed him as having "an outstanding imagination, of the kind we have not seen since Douanier Rousseau" (R. Charmet, 1963), saying that "he is the number one naïve painter in Yugoslavia and absolutely among the first in the world" (G. Vigorelli, 1970), "one of the greatest naïve painters of all times and countries" (A. Jakovsky, 1972). "Rabuzin is an incredibly modern painter who set off on his own independent and extremely original path" (P. Espeland, 1982), "a great painter-poet, a modern poet of spring" (G. Barigazzi, 1988).