Jo Ann Nava
“My art is an appreciation of the simple daily experience and the rituals we create to celebrate and validate our existence.”
It would be difficult to find a more culturally rich environment to grow an artist than the south Bronx in the 1950s. These early sensory impressions were akin to living in a John Sloan painting, with fire escapes, clotheslines and stickball. But it was later, going to school in the Chicago area, that the commitment to art was set. Exploring the Art Institute of Chicago and The Field Museum JoAnn developed a mutual admiration for contemporary artists and ancient artisans.
In Nava’s first solo exhibition, Cookies & Milk, the familiar images are simplified and oversized. Milk is the unifying human experience which spans, all times and cultures. The next series, Happy Birthday to You and You, continues the theme of life affirming innocence with large paintings of candle lit cakes and a sculptural installation of children celebrating together. Whether you are seeing Nava’s joyful people in Chinatown or Living Treasures, her series of older vital Americans, you can recognize the language by use of materials and intent. Milk paints, house paints and varnishes used in furniture painting and murals give the work an old world pallette. House paint as a medium brings a harmony to the eye of what we see in our environment.
Currently, Nava’s retrospective exhibition is led by the piece “A Mother’s Death, A Cup of Milk.” This painting was the first thread in a series that wove a consistent message through multiple statements and applications. It was born of a tragedy – the portrait of a boy who found that his mother had committed suicide. Nava, the stepmother of the boy’s best friend, grieved with the boy and his family. A family that she considered her own. Ten years later, Nava’s stepson was taken in a car accident. This image encapsulates that time. “A Mother’s Death, A Cup of Milk” is rarely on display. Though it’s typically tucked away forever mourning, this piece returns for this exhibition. The works following are about milk and nurturing, the affirmation of birth and the rituals that celebrate, the sanctity of wildlife and the reverence of aging. All of which are drawn from life experience. While it may seem that these experiences are common to women or those who share the same station, Nava aims for a greater translation of these works.
Jo Ann’s works are in the permanent collection of The Department of the Interior (Voyageurs National Park), The Outsider Art Collection at Virginia Tech, and in many private collections.