Robert Nava

A singular talent whose myths and monsters return painting to its childish roots.

Robert Nava standing in his studio with his hands on his hips
Robert Nava kneeling to hold the side of a large canvas in front of him
selection of different paintings on white canvases stacked up against a wall
6 images

Robert Nava was born in 1985 in East Chicago, USA, and now lives and works in New York.

Practice

Nava pairs canonical art world influences, such as sci-fi abstractions by Huma Bhabha, with the eclectic experiences of his time spent working as a truck driver in New York City.

Process

Energetic, intuitive and uninhibited - while many of his works take much longer, the artist has completed paintings in as little as 27 seconds.

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Exhibitions

Practice overview

Nava’s practice creates its own mythology. His paintings fuse abstract mark-making with child-like figuration that depicts supernatural beings such as witches, ghouls, monsters, and dragons. The works combine the light and the dark, exploring themes of violence, nonsense, folklore, and fantasy. Both ancient and modern influences inform Nava’s work, from Sumerian carvings and cave paintings, to Abstract Expressionism, Bad Painting, and contemporary artists such as Huma Bhabha. As well as art history, Nava pulls inspiration from daily life, often illustrating bizzare anecdotes he has heard from friends and family. With a multitude of materials including spray paint, acrylic, graphite, and crayons, Nava works on large-scale canvases, pairing thick paint with scribbly line-work that looks like an enlarged sketch. Together, all of this makes up Nava’s absurdist storytelling: a parody of well-known mythic tropes which create their own childish nightmare.

Nava makes art from the mundane. In his ongoing series of truck paintings, he paints the back of trucks in bright, geometric forms. While their bold colour schemes and simple shapes turn the everyday subjects into abstraction, a personal narrative is attached to them as well. When making his way as a painter in New York City, Nava supported himself as a mover. He spent a lot of time driving a truck, and waiting behind other trucks. Sitting in the New York traffic, Nava observed the vast breath of the city; the criss-crossing lives of many different people and histories brought together on the streets. For Nava, this familiar view became a symbol of transience, a trace of the invisible labour in the city, and a recognition of overlooked beauty.

Nava rejects reason in his work. By painting the mythical and the supernatural - narratives used throughout history both to explain the world around us, and also to escape from it - Nava highlights humankind’s perpetual desire to give meaning to the unknown. Nava, however, is keen for his work to exist without justification, believing that whatever does not make sense now, will find different logic in time to come. This is what Nava calls, “interesting nonsense.” A nonsense that has the uninhibited playfulness of a child, but is created through a cultivated form of intuition. Thus, Nava’s work comes full circle: from child to adult, fable to truth, logic to absurdity. Undoing the grand symbols that he portrays, Nava is an artist who, no doubt, will be marking the contemporary art world with his fun and fearless myth-making.

Journals about this artist