Robert Nava - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale Hong Kong Wednesday, June 22, 2022 | Phillips

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  • “Randomness and absurdity can be the seeds to new things.”
    — Robert Nava


    Informed by a plethora of sources from Vincent Van Gogh to Jean-Michel Basquiat, and from Egyptian glyphs to Sumerian symbols, the works of American artist Robert Nava are unequivocally and unapologetically absurd, showcasing the artist’s indomitable creative force.


    Embodying the idea of ‘errors’ during creation, Nava also became obsessed with the ‘mistakes’ he discovered in his vast library of source materials: ‘And even looking at a Renaissance painting, I would be looking for error[s], like mistakes were more alive to me. By drawing things “incorrectly”, I found more things to do in that realm,’ Nava explained; ‘So that's why I find it more interesting and why I draw and paint like this. It's been like that since probably 2007 or 2008, but now it's getting really refined, and I know what I want to do more.’i


    “I know what I’m doing. It’s carefully done wrong.”
    — Robert Nava

    ‘Seriousness in Play’


    Completing his paintings within a few short days or even a few hours, Robert Nava developed his current expressive style through the idea of ‘seriousness in play’ ii, after exploring different modes of artistic expression in university. The complexity of the artist’s paintings is not immediately discernible to the viewer’s eye at first glance, as he plans his designs over many varied sketches before arriving at a canvas: ‘I think the zone comes by continuously drawing in my sketchbook. It’s like an athlete practising a three-point shot—when the game comes, he can just hit the shot without thinking about it. i Nava would spend hours rigorously sketching out the forms he wants to create in his sketchbooks, allowing him to confront the canvas with unbridled confidence.


    Nava’s signature fantastical world of mythical creatures defies the black and white distinction between the avant-garde and kitsch, introducing a skilfully planned playfulness that is reminiscent of children’s drawings. Deceptively simple, it however took Nava ‘a lifetime to learn how to draw like a kid again’iii. Interestingly, the compositional technique of imitating children’s drawings and returning to simple visual cues is commonly adopted by other contemporary artists such as Edgar Plans, Katherine Bernhardt, Aboudia, and Szabolcs Bozó.



    The Graffiti / Children's Drawing Aesthetic

  • Modern Myths

    "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 mythmaking, even though there are no real stories behind them yet."
    — Robert Nava


    Transporting the viewer to a childlike world of imaginary hybridised creatures, works such as Shark Wing Pegasus feature Nava’s most iconic motif – two sharks, engulfing a turquoise pegasus in the foreground. Bursts of neon yellow curl around the bodice of the pegasus like flashes of lightning, whilst spritzes of blue entwine the creatures as one, as shark fins pierce through the chest of the pegasus. Exemplifying his enthusiasm in the creation of fantastical animal hybrids, Nava often divides the compositions of his paintings, fragmenting forms of different creatures, as he did in Shark Wing Pegasus with a horizontal split, adding a subtle layer of complexity and ambiguity to his chimeric figures. The forthright arrangement of these simple motifs of shark heads, wings, fins and legs capture the remarkable speed of the artist’s creative process. Indeed, the artist has once cited that his quickest work only took a mere 27 seconds to complete.



    Detail of the present lot

    With a slapdash aesthetic that is deliberately cartoonish, Nava’s enigmatic paintings draw comparisons to works by fellow Brooklyn based artist, Jean-Michel Basquiat. Also drawing from a myriad of sources such as religious iconography, music, art and cultural history, Basquiat creates a unique visual vocabulary of symbols and cyphers, often incorporating symbols he found in Henry Dreyfuss’s Symbol Sourcebook. As opposed to Basquiat’s more immediate references to old masters, jazz musicians and boxing champions in his works, Robert Nava is more cryptic in his use of symbolic motifs. Nava exploits the creative potential of free association by inviting viewers to make their own interpretations, demonstrating the artist’s raw, unhindered imagination.


    Jean-Michel Basquiat, Beef Ribs Longhorn, 1982
    Collection of The Broad, Los Angeles
    © The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat. Licensed by Artestar 


    Collector’s Digest


    Born in Indiana and based in Brooklyn, American artist Robert Nava has captured the attention of the international art scene ever since the Art Institute of Chicago had acquired four of his works on paper into their collection in early 2020.


    In July 2020, Phillips New York debuted Nava at auction with The Tunnel, 2019, which sold for 4 times its low estimate at 162,500 USD (Premium). It was then when Pace Gallery had quickly announced representation of the artist later in the same year, holding two solo shows for Nava that sold out at a blink of an eye.



    Robert Nava, Angel Shark, 2020

    Sold by Phillips Hong Kong, 30 November 2021 for HK$4,410,000 (Premium)


    The next year in 2021, Vito Schnabel Gallery announced joint representation of Nava, holding a solo exhibition for him in the same year. Nava has recently been honoured with another solo show hosted by Night Gallery in Los Angeles, Bloodsport, which ran from 19 February to 26 March 2022, focusing on works on paper by the artist. His solo exhibition with PACE London, Thunderbolt Disco, has just opened 13 May and will close 25 June, 2022.


    Nava’s works have found places in prominent collections such as the Art Institute of Chicago, the ICA Miami, and Zuzeum Art Centre in Latvia.



    i Robert Nava, quoted in Sasha Bogojev, ‘In Conversation with Robert Nava’, Juxtapoz, 18 September 2019, online

    ii Robert Nava, quoted in Lance De Los Reyes, ‘Robert Nava's Secret Friends’, Office Magazine, 22 April 2020, online

    iii Keith Estiler, ‘Robert Nava’s New Mythologies’, Hypebeast, 19 March 2020, online

    • Provenance

      v1 Gallery, Copenhagen
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Artist Biography

      Robert Nava

      Robert Nava (b. 1985) is a contemporary artist based in Brooklyn, New York. Using a rough and
      free-flowing hand, Nava recreates the innocent and unlearned art of childhood. His works are
      “carefully done wrong,” subverting the rigid fundamentals of painting and conventions of
      completeness that Nava learned as an MFA student at Yale University. Nava’s paintings often
      feature imagined mythological figures and histories of the artist’s creation whose drama is
      brought to life with the frenetic energy of the artist’s brush. 

      View More Works

Property from a Distinguished Scandinavian Collection


Shark Wing Pegasus

signed, titled and dated '"Shark wing Pegasus" Nava 19' on the reverse
acrylic, spray paint and grease pencil on canvas
182.2 x 213.2 cm. (71 3/4 x 83 7/8 in.)
Executed in 2019.

Full Cataloguing

HK$1,200,000 - 1,800,000 

Sold for HK$3,780,000

Contact Specialist

Charlotte Raybaud
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+852 2318 2026

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

Hong Kong Auction 22 June 2022