Never content to rest on his laurels as a contemporary master of painting, John Nava uses his canvases – and now, tapestries – to engage in a dialogue with voices from art history’s past and present. Nava’s Portrait of R.E. II borrows its haunting luminosity and sheer presence from Vermeer, but there is something of the 20th century in its figure’s confident, empowered expression, and something of the 21st century in the formidable technology hinted at by the perfection of its weave.
‘In contrast to the the neutrality of strict realism, Nava infuses a classical hierarchy of values in his images and often composes highly scrutinized subjects in stark and abstract contexts. Painting the figure is at the heart of Nava’s work, and not just to paint it over and over again as subject, but to paint it with the ultimate intention – the hope – that he will eventually get it right. “I want to make the figure appear in a stunning way. I want to make it beautiful.” Such statements remind one of Ingres’ pursuit of perfection, and for Nava this elusive goal constitutes the deepest preoccupation in painting.’
— Louis Fox, John Nava Exhibition catalog introduction, May 1997