HYPEBEAST Ignition 28 Robert Nava InterviewHYPEBEAST Ignition 28 Robert Nava Interview
Robert Nava’s New Mythologies
Carefully done wrong.

Indiana-born artist Robert Nava says his paintings are “carefully done wrong.” Each working day in his Brooklyn studio becomes an opportunity to unlearn the stringent guidelines and techniques that secured him a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) from Yale back in 2011. Nava embraces mistakes and visual abnormalities as necessary components in his oeuvre, evoking a childlike innocence in his unruly compositions that are made using bold acrylic paints on canvas.

Nava works with the flow that feels best for him. Throbbing techno mixes fuel his morning painting sessions, sometimes resulting in nothing at all. Other times, he handles multiple paintings at the same time, with a personal record of completing a painting in just 27 seconds. 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. After drawing multiples of the same motif on paper, he attacks the canvas to build his new hybridized monster.

His more recent paintings are largely influenced by figures in ancient mythology, twisting the forms of fabled brutes to create a motley crew of creatures. Although he doesn’t have a particular concept or narrative in mind when he’s painting, his otherworldly subjects assume unique personalities once they’ve been realized on canvas. For instance, he describes his new Red Angel character as the champion of all the beasts in his studio (maintaining a fictitious battle record of 33-0 against his better known Shark figures). Nava continues to have a deep connection with the subjects of his paintings, seeking to unearth new characters in his sketchbook that can one day defeat his Red Angel.

“When I was 12 or 13, I could already draw and paint like Velasquez, but it took me a lifetime to learn how to draw like a kid again.”

Nava currently makes a living exclusively from selling his art. After receiving his MFA, Nava managed to sell a number of his pieces and used the money he earned to move to New York. To help provide funds for his art career, he drove a moving truck in NYC while also working on his paintings at night. Since then, he has had solo exhibitions in a number of progressive galleries such as Sorry We’re Closed Gallery in Brussels and Night Gallery in Los Angeles, CA. His work has been included in group exhibitions at V1 Gallery in Copenhagen, Wayne State University in Detroit, and Safe Gallery in Brooklyn, NY.

We caught up with Nava at his Brooklyn studio to learn more about why he chooses to break the rules of fine art, his strong bond with his subjects, and future projects.

HYPEBEAST Ignition 28 Robert Nava Interview

When did you start painting and drawing?
Ever since I was three years old, I would draw using crayons and pencils. It wasn’t until 2008 that I got serious about projects and unconscious ideas.

What kind of paintings were you making in college? Are the compositions entirely different from what you’re creating now?
In college, we learned how to draw very realistic, like photoreal. By the time I was 12 or 13 years old, I could actually draw in that style, and I like to think that I was pretty good. We also learned how to paint in the Renaissance style and all those traditional techniques. After we learned advanced painting, the teacher would give us feedback like, “Okay, now you’re artists. You don’t even have to create in these styles or what we just taught you.” I was kind of cheering that comment on because I went completely the opposite way. When I was 12 or 13, I could already draw and paint like Velasquez, but it took me a lifetime to learn how to draw like a kid again.

HYPEBEAST Ignition 28 Robert Nava Interview

What artistic direction were you moving toward after graduating?
This idea of “seriousness in play” was always at the root of my ideas. For me, it was more interesting to incorrectly draw an arm or fuck it up by breaking all the rules I learned. I wouldn’t say that I was drawing full-blown monsters and mythology stuff yet. The pieces I was doing were kind of comedy and tragedy at the same time. These kinds of tropes, you know?

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

Let’s talk about your current subjects, these monsters. What inspired them, and what are your source materials?
People will send me stuff sometimes, but it really just begins with my little sketchbooks. One source material is this dictionary of fallen angels that I just got from a friend. I tend to combine things that are different, even if it’s just mindless. I’ll repeat the mouth of that tiger and the shark. I just really enjoy combining things and then making them have different strengths and abilities. But these subjects don’t necessarily have to belong to a particular narrative.

You claim to have finished a painting in just 27 seconds once. How did you know it was complete after such a short time?
I knew roughly what I wanted to do, and it started very abstract. I just kind of went scribbling on it, and things started forming. I’m like, “All right, the head is going to be here now. That’s totally a tail. So, this means that these have to be legs.” Right? The techno music in my studio was really, really loud, and I just kind of got into the zone, you know?

What are some memorable reactions to your works that have stuck with you?
We threw a little party in my old studio, and one of my friends was standing in front of an alligator painting that I made. He said, “You know what? This one really calms me down.” And it just felt good. If my paintings can make someone feel anything positive, that’s great. Some people think they’re total bullshit too. I get hate comments and stuff, but it comes with being an artist.

HYPEBEAST Ignition 28 Robert Nava Interview

Have you always been working on large-scale canvas pieces?
I’m addicted to scale. I almost don’t know how to paint small. The only small scale works I do are drawings in my sketchbook.

Do you ever feel pressured to make work because you live in your studio?
Yeah, actually. I take dedicated days off on Sundays and Saturdays. Or I make sure to give myself a couple of days off during the week, and I turn my paintings around so I don’t see them. It’s hard to separate, which is kind of a problem. But I guess the best part of living in my studio is that I can wake up at 3:00 a.m. and make a little scribble or add some color to something. They’re just there. There’s no commute.

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

How many paintings can you work on at one time?
When I’m on fire, I can make four and a half paintings in one day. That’s the best feeling in the world when you can just hit it. There’s all of these raw canvases, and I can’t really fuck up. I love starting a canvas and not messing it up in one session. Usually, there’s probably three bad paintings under one piece. I usually have to keep working and wrestling with one until I get it right. Each has a layered history.

HYPEBEAST Ignition 28 Robert Nava Interview

What gets you into that zone where you’re just “hitting it”?
With the drawings, sometimes it’s mindless. I might repeat the shark mouth over and over, and then something comes from that. With a raw canvas, it’s usually the music and getting fearless with that until I feel unstoppable.

Why do you draw the same subjects like the shark over and over again in your sketchbook?
It gets me away from being scared to paint them on canvas because I’ve drawn it so many times already. Also, people don’t know about what I do in these sketchbooks. Most of the time, I’m like, “Man, this shark mouth, I got this. But I’m going to kind of make it look bad.” But I know what I’m doing. It’s carefully done wrong. Like there’s ways to make that mess up, but I’m still trying to master my hand in a certain way.

Can you tell us a bit more about your “carefully done wrong” approach?
I think it comes from knowing all those “rules” from the traditional drawings I did for so many years. So I know how to compose. I’d like to think I’ve got a good sense of color. If it looks like it’s done, and it looks easy, then I’ve done my job.

HYPEBEAST Ignition 28 Robert Nava Interview

THIS STORY WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN HYPEBEAST MAGAZINE ISSUE 28: THE IGNITION ISSUE AS “NEW MYTHOLOGIES”. FIND OUT MORE HERE.



Credits
Photographer
Michael Kusumadjaja
Tags
Share
 
Subscribe to our Newsletter

Gain access to exclusive interviews with industry creatives, think pieces, trend forecasts, guides and more.

By subscribing, you agree to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

Help us serve you better

We appreciate your support in allowing HYPEBEAST ads, where we can share contents from the latest fashion, to those culturally relevant. In adding HYPEBEAST to your ad blocker's whitelist, ads on our sites will show while you continue to browse.

Help Support Us

We need ads to keep the lights on and to continue providing free news to our readers. We’d appreciate your support by whitelisting HYPEBEAST on your ad blocker. That way you can keep reading all the great stories for free.

If you have already whitelisted us, simply refresh this page. To find out how to whitelist us, click the button below.

Back

Add Us to Whitelist

We appreciate your support in allowing HYPEBEAST ads. Most ad blockers have similar whitelisting steps and settings. If you need assistance, please contact us.

Adblock Plus

  1. Click on the red ABP icon in the upper right corner of your browser.
  2. Click “Enabled on this site” to disable ad blocking for the current site. In Firefox click “disable on HYPEBEAST”.
  3. Refresh the HYPEBEAST page that you were viewing.

Adblock

  1. Click the AdBlock hand icon.
  2. Click “Don’t run on pages on this domain”.
  3. A new “Don’t run AdBlock on…” dialog may be displayed in the middle of the screen.
  4. Move the “Site” slider to the right. After that, click “Exclude”.
  5. Refresh the HYPEBEAST page that you were viewing.

uBlock

  1. Click the uBlock icon.
  2. Click the large blue “power” button in the menu that appears to whitelist the current website.
  3. Reload the HYPEBEAST page that you were viewing.

Firefox Browser

Firefox Tracking Protection may activate our whitelist notice, which can be disabled temporarily for a browsing session by clicking the shield icon in the URL bar and following the instructions.

Disconnect

  1. Click the Disconnect icon.
  2. Click “Whitelist site”.
  3. Refresh the HYPEBEAST page that you were viewing.