Croatian, 20th century.
Born 1902, Bilisani, Croatia; died 1989, Belgrade, Serbia.
Sava Sekulić was born in the village of Bilisani in Croatia. He grew up in a destitute rural household by the Zrmanja River where he lived surrounded by nature with his parents and his two sisters until the age of ten. Following the death of his father in 1912, and the subsequent remarriage of his mother, Sekulić and his older sister were sent to live with an uncle and aunt. In 1917, he was drafted to serve in World War I, where an injury caused the loss of sight in his right eye. After returning to Bilisani where he found himself rejected and mistreated, the 17-year old Sekulić set out for a new life far away from his poverty-stricken hometown.
Barefooted, he marched from place to place, working at various odd jobs across Croatia, the Lika region, Slavonia and Syrmia, and eventually found himself in Belgrade where lived for the rest of his life. He took any job he got offered - farm laborer, lumberman, bricklayer, and factory worker - and struggled just to barely survive. In 1924, he married his first wife who passed away shortly after their only child's death. Deeply affected by yet another tragic loss, Sekulić started painting and writing poetry in 1932. Having been an illiterate until the age of 30, he taught himself how to read and write and signed his works "CCC" meaning "SSS" in the Cyrillic alpabet and standing for Sava Sekulić Samuk, "Samuk" meaning self taught.
Sava Sekulić wanted his work to reflect his own understanding and knowledge of the world. He drew his creative power from his father's past encouragement who told him to "...write with stone on stone, learn to work with your hands. And if you write down what comes into your mind, nobody will say this belongs to me, everybody will say this is yours." There are recurring themes in all his works: animals, bizarre bodies, victims, rebels, historical heroes and also scenes from family life.
The composition of his paintings is very simple as he mostly drew a single figure composed of both human and animal body parts to which he deliberately added unusual details like grotesque, scrawny hands and the odd position of thumb and fingers. As a child he also often listened to folk tales and legends, absorbing in this way his nation's history. Deeply engraved in his consciousness, these legends strengthened his ties with his national heritage, an essential characteristic of his work.
Despite innumerable personal problems and obstacles he encountered along the way, Sekulić remained committed to his art. He wanted to prove the world his theoretical and practical knowledge and dreamt of seeing his paintings exhibited and his poems printed. He tried unsuccessfully to exhibit his art for several years, and much of his work was destroyed during his years of itinerancy and in the Second World War.
In the early 1960s, Sava Sekulić became a member of the Jedinstvo Cultural and Artistic Association, and roughly around the same time his work was accepted into a few local group shows. He was discovered by Katarina Jovanovic, the custodian of a gallery at an adult educational center who gave Sekulić his first show in 1969. She also introduced his work to the Gallery of Naive Art in Svetozarevo, where he began exhibiting in group shows. Sekulić believed that Katarina Jovanovic understood him as an artist and a person and finally devoted all of his time to painting and poetry thanks to her support. He considered himself equally a painter and writer and would also write down verses on the back of his canvases.
Selected Solo Exhibitions
2001, Sava Sekulić, Galerie Susanne Zander, Cologne
1998, Sava Sekulić, Galerie Susanne Zander, Cologne
1998, Sava Sekulić, Museum Charlotte Zander, Schloss Bönnigheim, Bönnigheim
2018, Turbulences dans les Balkans, Halle Saint Pierre, Paris
2011, Sous le vent de l'Art Brut, Collection Charlotte Zander, Halle Saint Pierre, Paris
2010, Intuition, Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester (England)
2010, Hamer Highlights, Galerie Hamer, Amsterdam
2007, Art Without Frontiers: Foreign Masters in the Collection of the Croation Museum of Naïve Art, Croatian Museum of Naïve Art, Zagreb
2007, Recent Acquisitions, Galerie St. Etienne, New York
2006, Inner Worlds Outside, traveling exhibition, Sala de Exposiciones de la Fundacíon "La Caixa," Madrid; WhiteChapel Gallery, London; Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin
2005, Outsider Art, Tate Britain, London
Croatian Museum of Naïve Art, Zagreb
Museum Charlotte Zander, Schloss Bönnigheim, Bönnigheim
Feilacher, Johann, Sava Sekulić, Volume 2 of Ausstellungen im Novomatic Salon, Museum Gugging & Residenz-Verlag, Sankt Pölten, 2010.
Inner Worlds Outside, exhibition catalogue, Fundacíon "La Caixa," WhiteChapel Gallery, Irish Museum of Modern Art & Ediciones El Viso, Madrid, 2006.
Händler, Ruth, "Legend of My Own Life: Sava Sekulić," Raw Vision, #26, Spring 1999.
Sekulić, Sava, Sava Sekulić: Das Werk, Brinkmann und Bose, Berlin, 1993.