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Ilija Bosilj Bašičević

Serbian, 20th century.
Born 1895, Šid, Serbia; died 1972, Šid, Serbia.


Ilija Basicevic (who later adopted the surname Bosilij as an artistic pseudonym) was born in 1895 in the town of Sid, in what is now Serbia and Montenegro. His family were peasants who earned their living farming and raising pigs. After the war, Ilija returned to the family farm, married, and had two sons, Dimitrije and Vojin. While Ilija had little formal schooling, he was highly respected within the local community.

In the 1950s, a “naive” art renaissance swept through Yugoslavia, although the official style, as in the Soviet Union, was Socialist Realism. Ilija’s art-critic son, Dimitrije Basicevic, was an early partisan of the most famous Hlebene artist, Ivan Generalic. And it was thus that the unemployed and persecuted father, now 62 years old, got the idea of painting. At first, Dimitrije did not approve of his father’s work. However, the longer he looked at his father’s art, the more he became convinced of its quality. Ilija drew on extremely personal aesthetic resources, and his work is extraordinary precisely because it lacks the somewhat canned quality typical of many Hlebene-school pictures.

In 1971, Sid established the Museum of Naive Art, yet is soon floundered due to lack of financial success. The civil war that led to the dismemberment of Yugoslavia following the fall of Communism has further served to limit Ilija's international exposure in recent years.  It may, however, be said that, like the naives, Ilija had a conscious sense of himself as a painter, and the fact that he worked principally in oil on canvas attests to his artistic ambitions. On the other hand, his subject matter is not derived from observable reality, but rather, in the manner of art brut, from the artist’s own idiosyncratic visions and dreams. Although much of Ilija’s work has Biblical overtones, Ilija considered faith a private matter and, like most Serbs, went to church only on special occasions. The artist was also influenced in his choice of subject matter by the largely oral traditions of Serbian folk poetry, myth and history. Stylistically, one can detect the influence of Byzantine icons and regional folk art.

- Courtesy of Galerie St. Etienne


Selected Exhibitions

2012, The Ins And Outs of Self Taught Art: Reflections on a Shifting Field, Galerie Saint Etienne, New York

2010, The Museum of Everything, Pinacoteca Giovanni e Marella Agnelli, Turin

2008, Recent Acquisitions: And Some Thoughts on the Current Art Market, Galerie Saint Etienne, New York

2008, Transforming Reality: Pattern and Design in Modern and Self-Taught Art, Galerie Saint Etienne, New York

2007, Recent Acquisitions: And Some Thoughts on the Current Art Market, Galerie Saint Etienne, New York

2007, Fairy Tale, Myth and Fantasy: Approaches to Spirituality in Art, Galerie Saint Etienne, New York

2006, Recent Acquisitions: And Some Thoughts on the Current Art Market, Galerie Saint Etienne, New York

2005, Recent Acquisitions: And Some Thoughts on the Current Art Market, Galerie Saint Etienne, New York

2005, 65th Anniversary Exhibition, Part II: Self-Taught Artists, Galerie Saint Etienne, New York

2004, Sue Coe: Bully: Master of the Global Merry-Go-Round and Recent Acquisitions: And Some Thoughts on the Current Art Market, Galerie Saint Etienne, New York 

Selected Solo Exhibitions

2006, Ilija!: His First American Exhibition, Galerie Saint Etienne, New York

Selected Collections

Charlotte Zander’s Museum of Naive Art, Bönnigheim
Galerie Saint Etienne, New York
Museum Ilijanum, Šid
Museum of Everything

Selected Bibliography

The Museum of Everything, exhibition catalogue, Pinacoteca Giovanni e Marella Agnelli & Electa, Turin/Milan, 2010.

Bašičević, Ivana, Vladimir Kopicl, and Ilija Bosilj, Svet Po Iliji: Ilija's World, Novi Sad, 2009.

Mangelos, Dimitrije Basicevic, My Father Ilija: A Draft for an Antimonography, Yugoslavia, 1996.

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