Robert Nava - 20th Century and Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Thursday, July 2, 2020 | Phillips

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  • In Short

  • Myths and Monsters

    Evoking ancient hieroglyphics, Robert Nava’s mythical monsters teeter between commemorative gravitas and childlike levity. Intrigued by the mystery inherent to viewing ancient images, such as those in cave painting, when viewed within a contemporary context, the artist envisions enigmatic creatures with untold stories. 

    Source material photographed in the artist's studio.

    “For me, it was more interesting to incorrectly draw an arm or fuck it up by breaking all the rules I learned”
    – Robert Nava 

    Cranach the Elder, The Legend of the Mouth of Truth, 1534. Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg, bpk Bildagentur / Germanisches Nationalmuseum / Jurgen Musolf / Art Resource, NY

    Nava’s earliest memories are of making drawings as a child: “My mom would always bring stacks of computer paper home from her work in Chicago; and there would always be crayons and pencils around to just draw.”[i] By the time he was a teenager, he was already trained in painting hyperrealist images in the Renaissance style. While in university, Nava was encouraged to explore other visual languages, a journey which ultimately led him to his current style. “This idea of ‘seriousness in play’ was always at the root of my ideas,” Nava articulated.
    Huma Bhabha, Untitled, 2017. Private collection, Artwork
    © Huma Bhabha
    Nava’s approach was informed by myriad influences spanning art history, from the Old Masters to Huma Bhabha, ancient art—primarily Egyptian, Mayan, and Sumerian—to Vincent van Gogh. Interested in the soul and immense impact of the these images, Nava also became obsessed with the “mistakes” he found in the works by this diverse selection of creators. “And even looking at a Renaissance painting, I would be looking for error, 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.”[ii]

    According to art journalist Keith Estiler, “before touching the canvas, Nava spends hours rigorously sketching out the forms he wants to create in his sketchbook. This practice allows him to confront the canvas with unbridled confidence” while blasting techno music. “After drawing multiples of the same motif on paper, he attacks the canvas to build his new hybridized monster.”[iii]

    [i] Robert Nava, quoted in Lance De Los Reyes, “Robert Nava's Secret Friends,” Office Magazine,  April 22, 2020, online
    [ii] Robert Nava, quoted in Sasha Bogojev, “In Conversation with Robert Nava,” Juxtapoz, September 18, 2019, online.
    [iii] Keith Estiler, “Robert Nava’s New Mythologies,” HYPEBEAST, March 19, 2020, online.
  • Collector's Digest

    Nava’s exhibitions at Night Gallery, V1 Gallery, and Sorry We’re Closed were sold out, and The Tunnel marks the artist’s auction debut.

    Read more about Robert Nava here.

    • Provenance

      Sorry We’re Closed, Brussels
      Private Collection
      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 an Important East Coast Collection


The Tunnel

each signed and dated “Nava 19” on the reverse
acrylic and spray paint on canvas, diptych
each 78 3/4 x 39 1/2 in. (200 x 100.3 cm)
Executed in 2019.

Full Cataloguing

$40,000 - 60,000 

Sold for $162,500

Contact Specialist

Amanda Lo Iacono
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+1 212 940 1278

20th Century and Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 2 July 2020