John Nava, well-known for his large-scale tapestries for the Cathedral of Our lady of Los Angeles, gives an intimate exhibit of selected works at Vita Art Center this month.
The exhibit consists of faithful depictions of people in oils, jacquard woven tapestries and monotypes. Just as impressive as his earlier work, Nava’s latest portraits deliver the same degree of excellence, and cement the unequivocal fact that good art doesn’t have to be complicated. He achieves no theatrics, no drama, no hoopla — simply honest renderings of real people, a tradition of Nava’s figurative work.
This is not to say that Nava’s portraits are in any way redundant. It is not difficult to see his realistic portraits and expect nothing more. It is a truly satiating visual experience.
We cannot underestimate how persuasive figurative art is. Portraits like “Peter with Red Shirt” and “Erin” are highly intimate, convey the sensibility of figurative art and highlight Nava’s connection to his subjects.
In “Portrait of a Swimmer (Rebecca),” a life-size painting of Rebecca Soni, the USC graduate and Olympic gold medalist, Nava portrays the swimmer as focused and calm, yet she evokes the subtle built-up tension of a competitor. Like “Rebecca,” all of Nava’s subjects exude the same degree of importance we tend to give to those in the limelight. In contrast, Nava captures the swimmer’s vulnerability and humanity, grounding her in reality. Nava’s subjects are not interchangeable, but seem uniquely intrinsic to the process of art making, and the result of each portrayal would not be the same had a different person been chosen.
Most amusing is the fact that several of the people depicted in the paintings were present at the exhibit’s opening. Chloe Gray, the sitter for “Chloe,” a tapestry representing a three-quarter profile view of a cherub-faced young girl, was in attendance. Older than her displayed portrait, she charmingly explained her experience as Nava’s sitter. Chloe, like the rest of the artist’s models, is a testament to Nava’s search for authenticity and humanity in his subjects.
With the exception of “T. Sitting,” and aside from their clothing, the portraits exist within no context. There is no background, no space in time. “T. Sitting” features a young girl with cascading blonde hair comfortably sitting on a couch. Her slender legs dangle off the wooden frame of the furniture and she crosses her bare feet at her ankles. She looks directly at the viewer and slightly purses her lips in an endearing forced smile common to a child. She wears an oversized striped shirt and a denim skirt. Nava’s painterly range and attention to detail are evident in the precise rendering of the wood, cushions, rug and other elements of the composition.
A certain fearlessness is prevalent in the work of Nava, an effortless confidence that comes with knowing that the work is undoubtedly good. Nava wields the stylistic and painterly confidence of a mature technique. His sources, although free from obvious blemishes or physical flaws, remain unaltered and imperfect, and the reputation of his portraits testifies to the appeal of really good art.
“Selected Portraits” does not propose anything new about Nava’s work, but it solidifies his stature as a renowned figurative artist.
“Selected Portraits” by John Nava through May 30 at Vita Art Center, 432 N. Ventura Studio 30 (Bell Arts Factory) 644-9214.