Robert Nava – Thunderbolt Disco

Learning to paint in a realistic fashion is hard work; but “unlearning” one’s skills can be an even harder task.

37 year-old artist from Chicago Robert Nava has spent an awfully long time trying to reconnect with the child he once was and remember how to paint like one.

Since graduating from Yale in 2011, Nava has gone from – to quote his own words – “drawing like Velasquez” to perfecting a style that is deliberately naïve and childlike.

Often compared to the likes of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Jean Dubuffet, and Cy Twombly for his energetic, gestural brushwork, Robert Nava is far from being a mere epigone. Profoundly original and endlessly imaginative, his work conveys a sense of raw, joyous spontaneity as it bridges the gap between highbrow and lowbrow.

 

Installation View, Robert Nava: Thunderbolt Disco, May 13 – June 25, Pace Gallery, London © Robert Nava Photo: Damian Griffiths, courtesy Pace Gallery

 

Inspired by a wide sweep of culture – from Medieval Christian imagery to Mayan and Sumerian art, from religion and philosophy to video games – the artist has gained attention from dealers and collectors alike for his imposing canvases depicting bold otherworldly creatures hovering between the mythical and the supernatural.
Nava’s personal “cabinet of curiosities” includes such bizarre beasts as a red winged half dragon-half lion hybrid, a scaly-bodied rabbit, an army of extraterrestrial cherubs, and even a prehistoric shark whose head partially resembles that of a bear.

Explaining his work, the artist said: “I wanted to return to my childhood interests. I wanted to see these fabled creatures in my studio. I’m interested in a new kind of myth-making, even though there are no real stories behind them yet. It opened up a world of imagination while preserving a childlike drive”.

 

Installation View, Robert Nava: Thunderbolt Disco, May 13 – June 25, Pace Gallery, London © Robert Nava Photo: Damian Griffiths, courtesy Pace Gallery

 

At Pace, London, until 25 June, Thunderbolt Disco is Robert Nava’s first UK solo exhibition. Exploring themes of conflict and transformation, the show features new artworks made over the past two years, including some of the artist’s largest paintings to date.

Among the works on display are: Lightning Bolt, Second Chance Lion (2022); Psychology of Ares; Love Bunny Dragon (2022); Meg with Algae (2022) and Megalodon Grizzly Bear (2021). On view are also works from the Half Angel Half Alien series, a collection of paintings made using silvery mica dust to give a glistening finish to the pictorial surface.

Playful and irreverent, Robert Nava’s “carefully done wrong” paintings are composites of magic and wonder where modern and ancient influences sit hand in hand with parody and invention to conjure memories of childhood fantasies.

 

Installation View, Robert Nava: Thunderbolt Disco, May 13 – June 25, Pace Gallery, London © Robert Nava Photo: Damian Griffiths, courtesy Pace Gallery

 

Thunderbolt Disco is on display at Pace, 5 Hanover Square, London, until 25 June.

robnava.com

pacegallery.com

Featured Image: Installation View, Robert Nava: Thunderbolt Disco, May 13 – June 25, Pace Gallery, London © Robert Nava Photo: Damian Griffiths, courtesy Pace Gallery

Words by Jacopo Nuvolari

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