Draw­ing fire

John Nava makes his marks

Pasatiempo - - Art - Dou­glas Fair­field The New Mex­i­can

Ev­ery so of­ten we need to be re­minded of what it is that makes us tick, as well as the el­e­men­tal com­po­nents that led us to where we are at any given point in life. In the arts, this seems par­tic­u­larly true. For vis­ual artists, pick­ing up a pen­cil, a graphite or char­coal stick, a pen, or some other draw­ing tool and putting it to pa­per can do won­ders for the artis­tic soul. That di­rect­ness of mark mak­ing— that feel of some­thing held in the hand leav­ing its resid­ual iden­tity on a blank sup­port— can be re­ju­ve­nat­ing, phys­i­cally and emo­tion­ally. The fun­da­men­tal ac­tiv­ity of draw­ing sus­tains hand-to-eye co­or­di­na­tion and in­forms cre­ativ­ity.

“For me, draw­ing is very real in the sense of be­ing au­then­tic,” said West Coast artist John Nava, whose ex­hi­bi­tion of fig­ure draw­ings opens at Klau­dia Marr Gallery on Fri­day, Dec. 11. “Each draw­ing is a new en­counter that de­mands full en­gage­ment if it is go­ing to have both den­sity and make a vivid con­nec­tion to the ac­tual ex­pe­ri­ence of scru­tiny and the touch­ing of the page. I love such draw­ing just be­cause there isn’t a sort of of­fi­cial pro­gram to the work— as in a more for­mal paint­ing— it’s just a di­rect record of vi­sion, pure and sim­ple,” Nava said via e-mail from his stu­dio in Ojai, Cal­i­for­nia.

Nava some­times draws from a model in his stu­dio but most of­ten at­tends life-draw­ing ses­sions “af­ter work” at var­i­ous lo­ca­tions in nearby com­mu­ni­ties. “It is a pleas­ant out­ing to be out of the stu­dio, and I don’t have to wran­gle the lo­gis­tics of ar­rang­ing for the mod­els, set­ting up poses, lighting, and so on. It’s also a chal­lenge just to deal with what­ever comes up,” he said. In ad­di­tion, Nava keeps his ma­te­ri­als to a min­i­mum, his fa­vorite draw­ing tool be­ing an H pen­cil. “For years, I drew only with pen and ink. I was schooled that way, and it re­ally makes you com­mit to a line. But out of ad­mi­ra­tion for De­gas and es­pe­cially his hero In­gres, I be­gan draw­ing with pen­cil and was hooked. Why? Well, you can erase for one thing.”

Orig­i­nally from San Diego, Nava did his un­der­grad­u­ate work at the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Santa Bar­bara, and holds a Mas­ter of Fine Arts de­gree from the Villa Schi­fanoia Grad­u­ate School of Fine Arts in Florence, Italy. “I was and still am in­ter­ested in Ital­ian Re­nais­sance art, and the op­por­tu­nity to live and study in Florence was great. The form-sense of the Ital­ians— broad, grand— and the hu­man­ism of the art are still mean­ing­ful to me,” Nava said. Al­though he did not come from an artis­tic fam­ily, both he and his brother, film­maker Gre­gory Nava, con­stantly drew as kids. The artist cites an ex­hi­bi­tion of work by Pierre Bon­nard that he saw in his child­hood at the Los An­ge­les County Mu­seum of Art and Michelan­gelo’s Pi­età, which he saw at the New YorkWorld’s Fair, as in­spi­ra­tional to be­com­ing an artist.

Nava is best known as a painter and tapestry maker who gained no­to­ri­ety in 2006 for Neo-Icons, a se­ries of large-scale frontal por­traits of ado­les­cents made in op­po­si­tion to Pres­i­dent Ge­orgeW. Bush and the Iraq war. First ex­hib­ited at Sul­li­van Goss Gallery in Santa Bar­bara, the paint­ings fea­ture ca­su­ally at­tired sub­jects wear­ing T-shirts and but­tons with such state­ments as “Our Tor­ture Is Bet­ter Than Their Tor­ture,” “One Na­tion Un­der Sur­veil­lance,” “Stuff Hap­pens,” and “WhoWould Je­sus Bomb?” Af­ter the exhibit was mounted, the gallery re­ceived more than 100 phone calls in protest, in­clud­ing a few death threats. In re­sponse, gallery owner Frank Goss posted ex­tra se­cu­rity per­son­nel and hired a per­sonal armed guard to ac­com­pany Nava to the re­cep­tion. (There were no prob­lems.)

In 2007, Marr show­cased part of the Neo-Icons se­ries at her nowde­funct Shack Ob­scura on Canyon Road. A year later the se­ries was ex­hib­ited at the Fresno Art Mu­seum, fol­lowed by a show­ing at the Jenk­ins John­son Gallery in New York City. All th­ese ex­hibits evoked no protests. At the other ex­treme from Neo-Icons, in terms of Nava’s sub­ject mat­ter and con­tent, are the nu­mer­ous re­li­gious tapestries he has pro­duced, in­clud­ing those com­mis­sioned for the chapel of the Mater Dolorosa Pas­sion­ist Re­treat Cen­ter in Sierra Madre, Cal­i­for­nia (2003); the Cor­pus Christi Uni­ver­sity Parish in Toledo, Ohio (2004-2006); and the St. Stephen Dea­con and Mar­tyr Parish in El Paso (2009).

The group of draw­ings cur­rently fea­tured at Klau­dia Marr, how­ever, are far re­moved from any­thing po­lit­i­cally or re­li­giously mo­ti­vated. They are tame, by any stretch of the imagination. In the con­text of his other work, Nava sees his fig­ure draw­ings as “di­rectly per­sonal” and not about a for­mal or the­matic pro­gram. This body of work “presents ac­tiv­ity that has pre­oc­cu­pied me since child­hood but has al­most never been ex­hib­ited,” the artist said. Male and fe­male mod­els are ren­dered

stand­ing, sit­ting, bend­ing, and re­clin­ing in small-con­tour stud­ies cap­tur­ing not only a range of phys­i­cal at­ti­tudes but also a va­ri­ety of dis­tinct per­sonae. “Un­like more elab­o­rately de­vel­oped draw­ings, th­ese pages are full of im­per­fec­tions,” Nava said in an artist’s state­ment. “I like to try and make each draw­ing a sort of por­trait— a por­trait of the body and the model’s man­ner as well as the face. The gen­er­al­ized fig­ure doesn’t in­ter­est me— I want to see Rachel or Nuria or Charles [all mod­els em­ployed for th­ese ses­sions] in those lines. I like to get the qual­i­ties of the dif­fer­ent mod­els as pre­cisely as I can within the short time limit. If they come through vividly in the draw­ings, I trea­sure it— the ob­vi­ous mis­mea­sure­ments and er­rors of pro­por­tion notwith­stand­ing.”

In the cat­a­log to Nava’s show, John O’Hern— for­mer di­rec­tor and cu­ra­tor of the Arnot Art Mu­seum in Elmira, New York, and now a Santa Fe res­i­dent— writes: “John Nava still draws be­cause he en­joys it. John’s fa­cil­ity and prac­ticed eye al­low him to make draw­ings that are spon­ta­neous, full of life, and full of in­sight. The mod­els emerge from the quickly drawn lines that build up the fig­ures as real, unide­al­ized peo­ple with grace and bulges and faces formed by their sto­ries.” For Nava, putting pen­cil to pa­per has a ground­ing ef­fect that in­forms his art and his life. “For me, draw­ing is a way to un­der­stand­ing, a way to learn, to reg­is­ter and ra­tio­nal­ize ex­pe­ri­ence, to process re­al­ity.”

John Nava: Ir­m­gard Sit­ting 2, 2007 to 2009, pen­cil on pa­per, 9 x 12 inches

Mark Sit­ting 1,

2007 to 2009, pen­cil on pa­per, 9 x 12 inches

Rachel Reach­ing, 2007 to 2009, pen­cil on pa­per, 14 x 8.5 inches

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