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THE ART GALLERIES

La Cienega Area

October 16, 1987|MARLENA DONOHUE

John Nava's name is synonymous with a fine, coolly remarkable draftsmanship and classicist leanings that hover close to his hero, Jean-Auguste Ingres. In current oil-painted collages and drawings, Nava's technique is predictably unassailable and his vision predictably prettified and emotionally quiet.

"Stratonice (After Ingres)" constructs a composite classical maiden from veneered, worked-to-the-hilt, impeccably foreshortened fragments--a lyrical hand, a foot, a profile--affixed to less detailed passages of anatomy or drapery. In "Architectural Setting," classical ruins dwarf a perfectly rendered modern chair holding a measuring stick, the primary accoutrement and symbol for the idealistic materialism behind classicism in all its guises.

Nava's departure point for this work is a classical legend about the youth Antiochus, who's in love with his father's wife and falls ill for want and guilt. A court doctor guesses the cause and tells Seleucus, the father. Instead of the hair-pulling rage and vengeance of real Greek drama, we get a Sunday Movie ending with Seleucus giving his son the wife and throwing Upper Asia into the bargain!

Nava concludes this suite of paintings and pencil studies with a grand-scale 20th-Century version of a woeful, winsome Antiochus clad in jogging shoes and consoled by a stately, elegant father figure. Robed and perched on a stone slab, the ponytailed wife, Stratonice, looks on with disinterested remove.

By showing us each underlying grid, each literal edge, each Frankenthaler-ish wash and gestural field, Nava links 19th-Century historical painting with such modernist concerns as truth to process and real vs. illusionistic space. Nava's position vis-a-vis the past and present is unclear and although we're easily seduced by his sheer technical virtuosity and the rarefied, well-controlled reality he conjures, the work ultimately shows that it's hard to be all things to all people. (Koplin Gallery, 8225 1/2 Santa Monica Blvd., to Nov. 14.)

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