By releasing control of the artwork Mexican-American artist Rodrigo Nava explores uncapped potential through his explosive sculptures, literally.
Using a clever juxtaposition of hard and soft, metal and air, Nava constantly challenges the way materials are meant to behave. Through a series of artistic steps and developments, with the help of scientific experimentation, Nava is able to construct his substantial metal sculptures. Explosive gases are injected into the steel form under extreme pressure prior to the final step in the sculpture’s creation. It is the explosion inside the sealed metal shapes that cause the once immobile sturdy sheets of steel to puff up like a paper bag filled with popcorn.
In his series of expanded forms he calls the ‘Visible Force Series’ currently at Ellenbogen Gallery, Nava explores the relationship between design, pressure and materials. The results are often unpredictable, as he takes steps back physically and artistically just moments before the final formative stage of his work.
His work emerges from a series of previous experiments and attempts. Planning, calculating and then reacting are all components to his artistic practice. To begin, he welds sheets of steel by hand into abstract, non-representational figures. As Nava is constantly inspired by the world around us, the infrastructure which we depend on in order to carry out our daily lives, it is the strength in materiality which captures his attention the most. Understanding and bending the rules when it comes to what is sturdy and what is not; what flexibility means and what demolition entails. Nava seems to disprove all we think we know about durability and materiality. This is at the core of his work.
Authentic in method, this process-based series of works holds true to its label.Without each crucial physical step, the outcome would be unachievable. Technical in nature, due to the materials and methods involved, through years of experiments and testing various techniques, Nava eventually collaborated with former NASA engineer, Robert Chave in order to refine his concepts into a feasible reality. Original ideas for Rodrigo Nava’s sculptural work began with using hydro-pressure to inflate his powerful metal works, but after developing and capitalizing on the scientific process introduced to him by Chave, Nava has been able to force air pressure explosions inside his works at the right calibre in order to inflate them without destroying them; presumably walking a very fine line. Pieces of solid steel become dramatically altered as they are transformed into bloated containers of steel in many forms, some curved and natural, others creased and engineered.
A choice is made, at the beginning of each sculpture. Knowing the fate of the metal is to be moved by pressure, Nava must make decisions in order to direct the uncertainty of the most unpredictable outcome. By relinquishing control over his artwork, he entered into a new phase of the creative process, observation. Nava allows his materials to act as they will, considering the circumstances he forces them into. As he lights the fuse and steps back physically, artistically and spiritually, he places the sculpture in the hands of chance, changing the artwork from that of controlled creation, to that of timing, sensitive to external and internal forces at work. Therefore while observing one of his sculptures in a gallery setting, we must keep in mind we are interacting with an artifact of his artistic process. There is build-up, a climax and an aftermath. Each equal in value.
The surface of Nava’s inflated steel sculptures are finished with a rust patina or with a black wax. He monitors the development of the rust surfaces, sometimes allowing water to rust the steel further, sometimes using chemical stoppers to preserve a certain level of rust. While the black pieces are designed for indoor placement under proper conditions, the rust pieces are designed to be outdoors; he must make sure he has manipulated his creations to be tough enough to withstand the test of weather.
Nava is anything but limited by size. Miniature sculptures made from steel are often made and blown up in the same way as the larger pieces, in order to experiment. Successful in this tactic, Nava is able to translate his work across a wide range of sizes through trials of various pressure levels.
One such installation is now a permanent part of the Public Art Collection at Stapleton, Colorado; a $300,000 commission awarded to Nava by the Park Creek Metropolitan District in 2018. The maquettes presented to the committee for the three distinct sculptural arrays, “First Light” (aka “Marker Form”, 12’ tall by 7’ wide), “The Five” (6’ tall) and “Beyond the Plains” (6’ tall) are also available at Ellenbogen Gallery for a fraction of the cost, and size (they will fit on a desk or shelf easily), of the actuals.
In the world we live in, obsessed with constant communication and control, it is refreshing to see how one artist allows himself to be equally involved and removed from his own artwork. He allows his work to be influenced and affected by external and internal forces, as we all are. Nava throws himself into a high risk category for artworks and he allows it to happen in front of him as he watches it unfold, unable to control the final seconds in the creative process of his work. However, despite all of the unknowns, Nava is a true pioneer for artistic freedom; freedom in the work, freedom in the process and freedom to allow the outcome to be what it will be. He is able to step several feet away and observes his work explode in front of him, from a distance.
Elizabeth Spadea for Ellenbogen Gallery, 2020.