Naive Art: Helping the Community

Recently, a big supporter of GINA Gallery living in the UK decided to make a gift of three naïve artworks to the Alder-Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool. Happy to help make it happen, GINA Gallery provided the works at an unprecedented discount. Initially I thought that this purchase would serve to beautify the children’s wing. However, shortly after the artworks arrived at the hospital, I received a heartwarming message from the hospital’s arts coordinator. Referring to the paintings she wrote:

“They are an absolutely wonderful addition to our arts for health programe.  Our resident storyteller has been working with our patients, using the paintings to inspire new stories and memories,and we found that children have really enjoyed looking at the art and engaging with it.  They’ve been a great distraction from hospital life and it’s always so pleasing to see children smiling and enjoying doing something creative.”

The Troubador by Raija Nokkala (Finland)

Noah's Ark XXIV by Martha Tominaga (Argentina)


Protecting Our Planet Together by Cecile Emond (Canada)


A few weeks later I traveled to Liverpool to visit Alder-Hey and to observe first-hand the interaction between the paintings and the children. Youngsters undergoing dialysis and chemotherapy as well as those awaiting or recovering from surgery were participating in mini-workshops designed to stimulate the imagination, promote sharing of feelings and encouraging positive thinking.  They eagerly responded to prompts from the counselor working with them, pointed to the characters and elaborated on the narrative before them.

GINA Gallery is working on deepening our connection with Alder-Hey by arranging for a naïve artist to visit the hospital and conduct a three-session painting workshop with the children. At that same time, I plan to talk personally with them about the world of naïve art.

This unexpected and welcome experience opened my eyes to the power of naïve art to not only decorate and beautify our homes, but to spread well-being and happiness to the wider community.  How wonderful it would be if others took it upon themselves to initiate similar projects in local institutions that are near and dear to their hearts.


Travels with Dan: The Naives of Central America

Recently I spent 10 days traveling in four countries of central America, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala Arriving in Managua on the first leg of the trip I was struck by the contrast in life styles of the artists of Central America compared to that of the naives of Brazil and Argentina and of course from that of the naives of Europe.  Managua, the capitol of Nicaragua is beset by temperatures and humidity hovering around 100. Life in Nicaragua is tough which makes all the more surprising the idyllic reflections of everyday activities in the paintings of the Nicaraguan naives.


My Colorful Nicaragua by Noel Calero (Nicaragua)

Noel Calero lives in a small village south of Managua and devotes his every waking moment to painting dream like recollections of his youth in  his home village. The first time I met Noel he had a pet crocodile in his back yard .  We all made a wide berth away from that family member. Not surprisingly upon my next visit the crocodile was no more having proved to be a menace to all who visited Noel’s home.

Looking around Noel’s village I was hard pressed to understand how his eye and hand turn a scene of ramshackle homes and poorly clothed denizens into a delightful, heartwarming corner of the world. If you focus on his painted world you can share in the beauty of the diverse natural environment he recreates. A multitude of different colorful trees, flowers, crops, gardens, groves fields abound.  While one man carries a back load of fire wood home to his waiting woman,in the distance you can  enjoy a local baseball game (The baseball league in Nacaragua is extremely important and supplies the US major leagues with many of its top players).

The Village Fair by Fausto Perez (El Salvador)

After my day in Nicaragua I was off to El Salvador where I visited several local naives including Fausto Perez. In his youth, Fausto grew up in a village far away from San Salvador, the capitol. His recollections of childhood are filled with joy and nostalgia. One day Fausto took me back to his childhood village and I was struck by the unbridled imagination from which he conjures amazing poetic scenes. For me Fausto’s power is  his ability to capture a scene in exquisite detail and infuse the entire picture with an ethereal light that freezes the scene in time according to nature’s clock high above in the heavens.  The bright noon day sun , the early evening shadows or the waning of the wee hours into an early dawn are rendered lovingly turning each individual painting into a unique viewing experience.

From Field to Village by Mariano Gonzalez Chavajay

Next stop-Guatemala: Many of the Guatemalan naives are concentrated around the well known Lake Atitlan, a breathtakingly beautiful lake ringed with many volcanic mountains. The trip from Guatemala City to Atitlan takes more than three hours and reaching the villages of the artists entails crossing the lake by motorboat. One of the famous families of artists living by the lake is the Chavajay family. Mariano Chavajay is the “patriarch” of the clan and his brother, sister-in-law and several cousins are amongst the finest naives in the country. These artists enjoy painting the local scenes both from a frontal viewpoint and birds’ eye perspective.  The naïve art of Guatemala is folkloristic in nature and captures the ethnicity and traditions of the culture by depicting seasonal festivals, market days, crop harvests and handicrafts. The decorative beauty of these works emerges from the colorful ethnic costumes, the country’s lush flora and heartwarming interactions of the local folk.

My Pretty Woman by Roque Zelaya Acosta (Honduras)

I travel to Honduras regularly but my first visit was in 1983. Landing in Tegucigalpa, the capitol city can be a hair raising experience.  Even the most able of pilots must perform aerial acrobatics in order to maneuver the plane safely through the ring of mountains surrounding the city.

Thirty years ago I was in Tegucigalpa as an international commercial lawyer, negotiating a major military contract for my then employer. When the negotiation had been completed, I left the hotel to catch a taxi to the airport however, across the street was a small gallery with a painting by Roque Zelaya Acosta.  Something about his work spoke to me and after a long conversation with the gallery proprietor I decided to purchase “The Bull Fight”, my first naïve art acquisition. At that time the name of the artist didn’t register with me and the signature on the canvas was illegible.

Approximately eight years ago when GINA Gallery opened its doors, I returned to Tegucigalpa to commence my search for the leading naives of Honduras. At the airport I was met by Roque Zelaya , whom, I had been told was the top naïve artist in all of Central America. Roque explained that we had a very busy itinerary ahead of us and that he was going to take me around Tegucigalpa to meet the various important naives of the country.  At the end of a very long day, he suggested that perhaps we would like to visit his home, as well, to see some of his works. Imagine my surprise upon entering his dwelling to see on the walls several works that were clearly by the same hand as The Bull Fight.  This was the beginning of a warm and deep friendship that has continued to today.

Last year, when GINA Gallery was contemplating the printing of a new annual catalogue, I mentioned to Roque that we were looking for an appropriate naïve artwork that would appear on the cover..  When I returned six months later, Roque presented me with a beautiful panoramic scene of his childhood village entitled “My Pretty Woman”. In my heart I knew that I had found just the right painting for our catalogue’s cover.

A few weeks ago I returned to Honduras and as usual was greeted with a huge bear hug by the smiling Roque Zelaya. Upon arriving at my hotel I presented Roque with the new catalogue.  It was an emotional moment for us both as Roque was visibly overwhelmed by this honor.  GINA Gallery is proud to have “My Pretty Woman” by Roque Zelaya as the signature painting on its catalogue which is the gallery’s ambassador of good will to the world.

Roque Zelaya Acosta (Honduras)

What is Naive Art’s Appeal?

While philosophers and critics debate the meaning, purpose and aesthetics of art, naïve art, a genre whose time has come, persists in capturing audiences’ attention.  Why is that?

Well, for one thing, successful art engages the viewer, connects with the eye, the brain and the heart.  Shea Hembrey, artist and curator, frames this a bit differently, in a recent TED TALK, “How I became 100 artists”. For him art must have a worthy concept behind it (Head), reflect high standards of craftsmanship (Hands) and convey an emotional impact (Heart).  He also uses his “Mimaw” test which goes like this.  If  he cannot explain a piece of artwork to his grandmother in five minutes or less then it is either overly obscure, obtuse or not worth the effort.  A visit to GINA Gallery ( will convince you that naïve art is worthy of your attention by any of these standards/criteria. Let’s see why.

International naïve artists score high on craftsmanship. Largely self-taught, their canvases are typically a riot of color and detail.  Each leaf, flower, reflection or moonbeam, contrasting texture or atmospheric humidity is rendered with expertise and exacting precision.  Don’t take our word for it, though. Sample the variety of offerings from 32 different countries displayed at GINA The level of craftsmanship and artistry, self taught though these artists may be, won’t disappoint.


Man Laundering Clothes, Edivaldo Barbosa de Souza (Brazil)

Color, composition and detail make a decorative and pleasing painting but what about the “Head”, the concept?  What is it about this genre that connects not only with the eye but with the intellect? Eduardo Ungar, from Argentina is a naïve artist who makes us think. Morning is a good example.  What do we see here? Layer upon layer of human interaction with people, architecture, time and space  that force us to engage and to wonder.

Morning by Eduardo Ungar (Argentina)

In this scene we have two different spaces. The hall of the building and a children’s clothing shop that we can peek into from the street. Outside the shop on the street is a mother and child in a carriage that has attracted the attention of an older man.The man on the ladder cleans the mirror high in the rose window in which we see reflected a young woman seeming to hurry along with a bag over her shoulder. Simultaneously a  housewife enters the building traversing the black and white tiled floor.  Outside at the curb waits our pensive motor cyclist, hand on chin and helmet. A moment in time encompassing four different spaces has been compressed onto a canvas 88 cm by 66 cm. Why does this “work”?  For one thing Ungar piques our curiosity about what is going on.  This slice of life narrative asks: Who is the cyclist waiting for and where is he headed?  Could the image of the girl in the glass be the object of his affection?  Does his gesture signify impatience or dreamy reverie?  What awaits the Signora at the end of the lobby?  A mundane scene or an intimate screen shot with a story behind every character?


A Feast for the Eyes by Jean-Pierre Lorand (Belgium)

Urban street scenes of Argentina are replaced by the countryside where a middle class couple of a bygone era sits in a bucolic setting to enjoy a picnic.  Reminding us somewhat of Manet’s Dejeuner sur l’Herb, this scene by itself is incomplete for Jean –Pierre Lorand of Belgium, who makes us pay more close attention by including a watchful bear standing on hind legs looking a bit like the “Smokey the Bear” icon of Forrest Ranger fame, and a graceful white tailed fox on the right.  Do the pair of pigeons on the branch echo the togetherness of the couple on the grass preparing to enjoy their light repast? And what of the title, “A Feast for the Eyes”? Exactly who are feasting or becoming the feast in this story?  Here whimsy and humor capture the audience with a language that is both precise yet also symbolic.  We are invited to speculate about what will happen next in this story.


Home Made Sweets by Anna Maria Diaz (Brazil)

Home-Made  Sweets,, by Ana Maria Diaz , on the other hand, paints an idealized and charming picture of her childhood village in Brazil and an elderly lady distributing goodies to the village children.   Joop Plasmeyer of the Netherlands transfixes us with his rich palette of blues and arresting red boat in his painting of Delft Harbor, Rotterdam (see below). But these paintings, while decorative make unexpected connections with the audience.  Here the depth of dialogue with the audience is the result of each painting’s accessibility and the chord that it strikes deep within us. Perhaps we have visited a similar place or shared a comparable memory.  In these examples, it is the viewer who contributes his experiences to the emotional mix, and in the process becomes partners with the naïve artist who, in recreating his or her world, makes a space within it for the audience.

Delft Harbor Rotterdam by Joop Plasmeyer (Netherlands)

These nostalgic images of festive family meals, hearthside gatherings, workers in the field, circuses, harvests, kite flying or school yard playgrounds are the grist of the naïve artist. While some canvases are rendered with certain intellectual appeal, they always come with an invitation to the audience to partake of the “offering.” Without fail, their bright colors, childlike composition, limited perspective and emotional punch woo us with their whimsy, humor, beauty, cultural diversity and deft technique that succeed in recreating the lacy fabric of curtains framing a window, golden sheaves of wheat drying in the fields, cascading waterfalls or the antics and grace of beloved pet cats that can transform a dwelling into a home.

Come and discover the world of naïve art and why it appeals to you.  GINA Gallery invites you to visit us at GINA and  We are confident that many of these joyful works will find a place in your heart, and will be delighted to assist you in finding them a place in your home.

Be Good by Anja Santala (Finland)


From My Balcony by Yanelys Garcia Saavedra (Cuba)

Introducing GINA Gallery Art Blog


The holiday season is upon us and excitement is in the air.  At GINA Gallery we are especially happy to be launching the GINA Gallery Art Blog. Here you will be able to find postings about what is taking place at the Gallery and out in the naive art world.  In addition, the Blog will acquaint you with wonderful artists, their communities and the rich experiences of GINA Gallery’s proprietor, Dan Chill. We hope  that what you read here will resonate and pique your interest, stimulate dialogue and debate adding to better understanding and enjoyment of the genre of naive art.

We invite you to visit the GINA Gallery web site at and to find us on facebook

Let the Blogging Begin!