About: Artists

John Nava
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Artist John Nava is the designer of the tapestries in the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. His central commission is the Communion of Saints, comprising 25 tapestries with 135 over life-size saints from throughout history and from all parts of the world.

Nava also designed the Baptistery Tapestries depicting The Baptism of the Lord by St. John the Baptist at the River Jordan. His Altar Tapestries display a hand drawn map of the streets of Los Angeles and a quote from the Book of Revelations to reflect the Church here and now as the New Jerusalem.

Background of the Artist

Nava is an internationally noted painter and draughtsman. He studied art at the University of California at Santa Barbara and did his graduate work in Florence, Italy. His work is found in numerous private, corporate and public collections throughout the United States, Europe and Japan, including the National Museum of American Art in Washington, D.C., the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), Hawaii, and the Triton Museum in San Jose, California.

Throughout his career as a painter the human figure has been at the heart of Nava's work. His work is represented in such important publications as Post-Modernism: The New Classicism in Art and Architecture (Rizzoli, New York) by Charles Jencks who coined the term "post-modernism" and American Realism (Abrams, New York) by Edward Lucie Smith, the first comprehensive history of realist painting in the United States.

Nava has created large-scale public works, including "Prosephone," a 45' wide mural for the Grain Exchange in Tokyo, Japan and Intersection, a 56' wide fountain sculpture for the 100 Brand Boulevard in Glendale, California.

In 1998 he was commissioned by the Seattle Symphony to paint a life-size, double portrait of Jack and Rebecca Benaroya for the new Benaroya Hall in downtown Seattle.

When he first was invited to be considered for the Communion of Saints tapestries, Nava recalls, "It would have fulfilled my dream at that moment to have been given one chapel and to do one small piece for that chapel." When he learned that the work was for the entire 300-foot interior nave of the Cathedral, he realized, "It had to be something that worked in a very coherent way with the architecture." Owing to the enormous scale and pressing time requirements of the project, he quickly realized that he would need a technological solution to realize the commission. To prepare full-scale "cartoons" in oil and by hand alone would take several years.

Nava decided to use computers in order to composite myriad separate elements that could be layered together - figures, textures and colors - and grouped into the final compositions. Working closely with Donald Farnsworth, a noted Bay Area artist, printmaker, papermaker and specialist in artistic applications of digital technology, a methodology was developed whereby a digital image could be sent directly to the loom, resulting in the woven tapestry.

The process involved research in Belgium with the weavers at the Flanders Tapestries mill and numerous woven trials. This constant testing and development of palettes and digital techniques was done simultaneously with the painting and composing of 135 figures into 25 groups for the Communion of Saints.

Nava says, "The technology made it possible. However, to get to the point where you can push the button and send the image to the loom, that was the craziness."

The Artists Thought's About His Work

The artist has been fascinated that the commission for the Cathedral has been done "completely without irony," and that the message of the image and the message of the Church "is a message of hope, redemption and meaning." Nava believes these are ideas that have been frequently dismissed in conventional modern art.

After the horrors of the 20th century - the World Wars, the atomic bomb and the Holocaust - humanity has routinely been seen pessimistically as "diseased and decadent," Nava explains. The best figurative painters of our time have made great works, but they often have been of a tragic and hopeless image of humans, if not a critical or cynical one.

The Communion of Saints, however, is exactly the opposite, Nava believes. Its theme is one of hope. He would like people viewing the tapestries "to see the humanity of these figures and feel a sense of connection to themselves."

Learn more about the TAPESTRIES.

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