Is the native artist a naïve artist? Yes, in the literal sense that the native artist is established in one locale and is unaffected by the vocabulary generated by a school of art or the art world, in general. The naïve artist has a unique vision and he is compelled to create what this inspires. It becomes “art for art’s sake.” But make no mistake, the naïve artist has high standards. This is not the Sunday painter. This is dedicated talent finding an outlet.
A lovely example of this is Pablo Zorilla, a native Dominican, who never studied art, nor ever created anything until ten years ago, when his career took him to Casa De Campo, in La Romana. There, inspired by the varied flora, he began to create centerpieces on dining tables. Each unique piece lasts only for a meal. lts ephemeral quality adds to this one off experience and heightens the viewers appreciation knowing it will not be replicated again.
Throughout the existence of man, the compulsion to create has taken varied forms. We look to the surviving cave paintings, mandalas, sand paintings, bark cloth, sailor’s valentines, masks, and even tattoos and face paint to catch glimpses of this mostly anonymous but hardly naive creator. This artist is not unsophisticated, he is just unaffected by formal schools of thought. In the 19th century, looking for a “pure” art became an obsession. Paul Gauguin (1848–1903) leaves for Tahiti, searching for this naïve/native quality, while at the same time in Paris, Henri Rousseau becomes all the rage for his total lack of rigorous academic training.
Many native works are ephemeral; made to last only for the symbolic moment: celebrating fertility, the seasons, a victory over an enemy, or even the dead. These local artifacts of flora, fauna, wood, and paint were created for temporary purposes. Collectors have aided in ending the destruction of things like burial masks and totems. The camera—a relatively new invention—has given global recognition to native creations, giving some sort of permanence to their being. Yet something intrinsic to us still need the “of the moment” experience: fireworks, ice sculptures, and even Snapchat provide this thrill.
The native artist creates because he has an aptitude and the discipline to do so. When Zorilla goes out into his Eden, he designs by what he sees and can forage. His understanding of form, color, and scale are as natural to him as his sense of humor. As Pablo says, his work is done with love: love of his environment, love of the flora he finds, and the love he feels when his creations are admired. Zorilla’s art may only last as long as a meal, but he is bringing it to the table, literally.