Robert Nava - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Thursday, June 30, 2022 | Phillips

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  • 'I wanted to return to my childhood interests […] I’m interested in a new kind of mythmaking even though there are no real stories behind them yet. It opened up a world of imagination while preserving a childlike drive.'
    —Robert Nava
    Combining childlike naivety and directness with a more nuanced investigation into the role played by archetypes and narrative in shaping our adult consciousness, Brooklyn-based artist Robert Nava simultaneously explores and creates his own irreverent and highly personal world of myth, monsters, heroes, and villains. Mixing folklore, children’s stories, and fantasy, Nava is well-known for his cast of otherworldly figures; strange chimeras who borrow the recognisable features of sharks, lions, and rabbits, alongside a selection of more fanciful angels, dragons, knights, and witches. At once comforting and highly relatable, the artist’s ‘neon-lit cave paintings of cultural fixations’ are highly imaginative, charged with a kinetic energy that draws frequent comparison to the gestural exuberance and narrative power of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s totemic figures.i

     

    Jean Michel Basquiat, Self Portrait, 1986, Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona, Spain. Image: © AISA / Bridgeman Images, Artwork: © The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat / ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2022
    Jean-Michel Basquiat, Self Portrait, 1986, Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona, Spain. Image: © AISA / Bridgeman Images, Artwork: © The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat / ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2022


    On Angels

     

    Nava first introduced the angel into this strange menagerie of hybrid nightmare creatures in 2017, imagined first as a hero-figure, summoned to defeat the monsters accumulating in his studio. Representing one of his earliest angels, Maybe Metatron is rendered in a subtly complex play of black, navy, and turquoise lines, appearing in its intentionally simplified and universally recognised form. Describing these earliest angels Nava explains: ‘They were formless and pushed around, maybe with an added pair of wings and a weapon or a shield. Their stomachs were more scribbled or swirled with paint. I was in the process of developing them into an idea. I was also in a zone of making monsters […] Angels and monsters started to have their own little battles in my studio: Which one is stronger? If angels defeat the others, then I’d paint an angel. I’d be in the studio thinking that if these monsters fought back how scary that would be.’ii

     

    Joining the fire-breathing dragons, knights, nightmarish chimeras these angel figures quickly multiplied, becoming a central and recurring feature of Nava’s visual vocabulary and forming the focus of the artist’s first solo exhibition in New York, Robert Nava: Angels with Vito Schnabel Gallery in 2021. Making direct reference to Metatron, a celestial scribe and angel according to ancient folkloric and Kabbalistic texts, the present work highlights Nava’s continuation of an art historical tradition that can be traced back as far as the 4th century. Collapsing medieval and modern in disarming ways, Nava places his angels in the company of Power Rangers and Jedi knights, bringing the Byzantine to life in his own, idiosyncratic vernacular.

     

     

    CAPTION: Islamic portrayal of the angel Metatron (Arabic: ميططرون) depicted in the Daqa’iq al-Haqa’iq (دقائق الحقایق "Degrees of Truths") by Nasir ad-Din Rammal in the 14th century CE. Bibliotheque Nationale de France, Paris  CAPTION: Paul Klee, Angelus Novus, 1920, The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, © Israel Museum, Jerusalem / Gift of Fania and Gershom Scholem, Jerusalem; John Herring, Marlene and Paul Herring, Jo Carole and Ronald Lauder, New York / Bridgeman Images
    [Left] Islamic portrayal of the angel Metatron (Arabic: ميططرون) depicted in the Daqa’iq al-Haqa’iq (دقائق الحقایق "Degrees of Truths") by Nasir ad-Din Rammal in the 14th century CE, Bibliotheque Nationale de France, Paris
    [Right] Paul Klee, Angelus Novus, 1920, The Israel Museum, Jerusalem. Image: © Israel Museum, Jerusalem / Gift of Fania and Gershom Scholem, Jerusalem; John Herring, Marlene and Paul Herring, Jo Carole and Ronald Lauder, New York / Bridgeman Images

     

    Rendered here in a subtly complex play of black, navy, and turquoise lines, the simplified but immediately recognisable form of the angel is executed with characteristic confidence, lending weight to Nava’s claim that ‘A scribble can have the same seriousness or weight as any other kind of mark making.’iii Highly gestural, Nava moves between spray paint, acrylic, and grease pencil as he builds his layered compositions, approaching a mode of automatic drawing in his rapidly executed works. Striking a measured balance between intuition and intention, Nava draws on the graphic legacy of artists such as Paul Klee and Jean Dubuffet, as well as a tradition of so-called ‘Bad’ painting identified by critic and curator Marcia Tucker in the 1970s.


    Opening up a more self-reflective element in his practice, the introduction of Metatron and the other angel figures in his painting allowed Nava to complicate his mythos, encouraging a more complex moral landscape than simple binaries of good and evil. Seemingly forces for good, the capacity of angels to act more independently had consequences for how Nava would come to see the monsters in his studio, perhaps they are not all bad after all.

     

    Collector’s Digest

     

    • Originally from East Chicago, Robert Nava was awarded his MFA from Yale School of Fine Art in 2011 and is currently based in Brooklyn, New York.

     
    • Since his graduation Nava has exhibited widely and has been the subject of solo shows New York, Brussels, Los Angeles, and Copenhagen. His work also belongs in the Art Institute of Chicago’s permanent collection.


    • Having joined Pace Gallery in 2020, Nava has already presented several international shows with the gallery, most recently celebrating the opening of Thunderbolt Disco in London, his first solo exhibition in the city.

     

    • Nava had his auction debut with Phillips’ 20th Century and Contemporary Art Evening Sale in July 2020.

     

    i Nate Freeman, ‘Painter Robert Nava is Hated by Art-World Know-It-Alls. So Why Are Collectors Fighting For Anything From His Studio?’, Artnet News, 19 April 2021, online.
    ii Robert Nava, quoted in Osman Can Yerebakan, ‘Paintings can talk back to you: Robert Nava Interviewed by Osman Can Yerebakan, Bomb Magazine, 24 March 2021, online.
    iii Robert Nava, quoted in Moses Driver, ‘At Vito Schnabel Gallery, Robert Nava Explores Angels in Paint’, Cultured, 20 February 2020

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    • Description

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    • Provenance

      Sorry We're Closed, Brussels
      Private Collection (acquired from the above in 2018)
      Christie's, London, 23 October 2020, lot 203
      Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

    • Artist Biography

      Robert Nava

      Robert Nava 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. 

       
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25

Maybe Metatron

signed, titled and dated ‘“Maybe Metatron” Nava 17’ on the reverse
acrylic, coloured pencil and grease pencil on canvas
203.2 x 183.3 cm (80 x 72 1/8 in.)
Executed in 2017.

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Estimate
£80,000 - 120,000 

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Kate Bryan
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Olivia Thornton
Head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Europe
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20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 30 June 2022