Born in 1920 in the village Gola of Prekodravlje, a part of the Podravina region in the Croatian North, close to the Hungarian border, Ivan Večenaj was the eldest of six brothers. He started writing and painting at an early age, with a greater focus on writing after the Second World War: most prominently gathering and writing down archaic words, folk proverbs, sayings and riddles.
If people such as Ivan Večenaj were taught about in schools, they would set an example of what great willpower, talent and dedication, combined with the awareness of one’s mission and an unquestionable love for their homeland, can do. All of these qualities our artist possessed in abundance, as he built his character and developed his own art paradigm, that would grant him recognition in the 20th century. He was a man of boundless imagination, an immense energy and love for his homeland, with a great creative force supporting him all the way through to the end of his, long and fruitful, life. A life led by a clear notion: “One should always cherish one’s own land, never run away from it”. He would simply call himself a “peasant painter”.
In spite of having lived in a secluded corner of Croatia, an enclave by the Hungarian border, his home was a magnet for art lovers, collectors, curators and critics alike. He himself said “These fields, these forests, / have grown roots within me…”
He was intertwined and conjoined with nature, the season’s cycles, celestial signs and phenomena, natural forces and tides. In a swing of color, with fiery pigments, he celebrated the beauty around him as his eyes would see it. Literally insulated, he lived and worked on his island, drawing inspiration from his childhood, youth, local folklore, popular spirituality, historical accounts and chronicles, etc., populating Podravina with beings of yore and depth, from prehistoric to biblical times, from the beginnings of christian civilisations to the contemporary era. Prophet-like, his gold-feathered roosters foretold the dawn of humanity and the twilight of civilisation. In his final decades he would expand his painting with literary work, writing in both ‘’štokavski’’ and ‘’kajkavski’’ dialects, accumulating linguistic material, making sure that nothing is “shed” or lost from the treasury of his people’s national being.