Robert Nava, Water Heart Cat, 2020, Acrylic and grease pencil on canvas, 84" × 72" (213.4 cm × 182.9 cm) © Robert Nava

Robert Nava

Robert-Nava-Matteo Mobilio-Pace Gallery.jpg

Photography by Matteo Mobilio


b. 1985, East Chicago, IN


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Driven by his desire to “make new myths” responsive to our times, Robert Nava has created a chimerical world of metamorphic creatures, drawing inspiration from sources as disparate as prehistoric cave paintings, Egyptian art, and cartoons.

Rendered through a raw, energetic mixing of spray paint, acrylics, and grease pencil, his large-scale paintings of fantastical beasts exude a playful candidness that defies the pretensions of high art and invites viewers to reconnect with the unbridled imagination of their childhoods.

To develop his uncompromisingly personal style, Nava first dispensed with the rules and conventional attitudes that he had learned while obtaining his MFA at Yale University—an attitude that aligns him with the irreverent “bad” painting first theorized in 1978 by the New Museum’s founding curator Marcia Tucker. Nonetheless, Nava’s hybrid monsters, which range from the dragon-like to the angelic, are thought-out composites that the artist continuously reworks in his sketchbooks. Drawing, in fact, constitutes the bedrock of his practice, a daily discipline of invention.

Often created to the vitalizing beat of techno music, his paintings conjure a realm awash in magic and possibility, where beings are always seemingly on the verge of transmogrification. Though offering viewers respite from the more cynical and dystopian aspects of today’s world, his paintings do not, however, veer into escapism. Violence and destruction are continuously implied by the ferocity of his depicted animals and the iconoclastic nature of his graffiti-like markings, which build on the gesturalism of Cy Twombly and Jean-Michel Basquiat. His work thus reacquaints viewers with an almost childlike capacity for fantasy and creativity, while offering a meditation on the loss of innocence and its recuperation.

Nava's work can be found in the collection of Musée d'Art Moderne, Paris, France; Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois; Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami, Florida; Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, California; The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas; The Columbus Museum of Art, Columbus, Ohio; Orange County Museum of Art, Santa Ana, CA, and Zuzeum Art Center, Riga, Latvia. His art has been exhibited in various solo exhibitions both domestically and abroad, including Bloodsport (2022) at Night Gallery, Robert Nava (2021) at Pace East Hampton, Robert Nava (2021) at Pace Palm Beach, Robert Nava: Angels (2021) at Vito Schnabel Gallery, and Robert Nava (2020) at Sorry We're Closed in Brussels.

Robert Nava, Lightning Keeper, Kiss of Death, 2020, acrylic and grease pencil on canvas, 72" × 72" (182.9 cm × 182.9 cm)
Robert Nava, Splash Cloud, 2020, acrylic on canvas, 72" × 72" (182.9 cm × 182.9 cm)
Robert Nava, Lightning Wolf Skull Rider, 2020, acrylic and grease pencil on canvas, 72" × 68" (182.9 cm × 172.7 cm)