First published: Spring 2001
The self-taught Yugoslav painter known as ‘Ilija’ had the pseudonymous surname of Bosilj and the official surname of Basicevic.
Born on August 2, 1895, the ninth child of a patriarchal Serbian peasant family in Sid, a small town west of Belgrade, he attended elementary school for only four years then spent his childhood and youth as a shepherd in the meadows and forests of the Bosut.
He passed most of his adult life as a farmer, cultivating maize and wheat, tending vineyards and raising cows, horses, sheep, pigs and poultry. He spent a good deal of World War II with his sons, in Vienna, avoiding being conscripted to the army, but during that time, he fell ill with tuberculosis. According to family legend, Ilija was an extremely authoritarian but just man, and a non-conformist.
After the War, Ilija returned home to Yugoslavia and created his first drawings and gouaches at the end of the 1950s when he was already in his fifties. Because of the Yugoslavian government’s consolidation of land at the time, he lost part of his property, and was anyway prevented by illness from doing the more demanding jobs around the farm.
He began painting with oils on wood, canvas, hardboard, paper and glass, working under the mentorship of his older son Mica (1921–1987), an artist, art historian, critic, poet. At that time, Mica was director of the Gallery of Primitive Art in Zagreb.