Sebastiano Navarra talks to The Yak about his art – and the journey he took to make it.
SEBASTIANO, how and when did you arrive on Earth?
As was the custom of the day and according to my mother, I was found under a cauliflower!
Who and what guided you into the world of art?
Some people call it a gift from God. My father encouraged me from the age of three. I was pretty good by the age of 10 and 12 and attended a Catholic school where I was encouraged to paint, draw and etch. With the priests’ recommendation I was able to find work by 16. I was ‘Photoshopping’ images of famous people by hand. Also my South American experience was key. I won a competition run by an advertising agency, J Walter Thompson, and went to work in Bogota, Colombia, in graphic design – very challenging, long hours, the money was good but my art took a back seat, it became a part-time hobby – I am now trying to make up for that gap.
Significant moments of your youth?
Winning the J Walter Thompson competition. My life began when I moved to Bogota.
Pride in art – your first moment of pride?
At the Muestra of Bogota at The National Museum through the Ministry of Culture and the Embassy of Italy. I sold all my pieces. Those that were left were various sculptures (based on the medieval city of Matera in Calabria) from a collaboration of architects and artists . . . these were grouped together to form a flagstaff. It was bought by the Bank of Bogota and stands four metres tall in the high-ceilinged rotunda. This was my abstract era . . .
Who was your first love?
My youth was in Columbia, my life started when I got there. Botero was there, Rojas too, all in one group, we were the same age, friends. We “imported” some movies – Colombia was very Catholic and censored movies. I saw Gilda with Rita Hayworth . . . I fell in love – she was my first love and to this day still is. I saw her later in life – she was not so good . . . alcohol and cigarettes . . .
Influences within your style? Who are your heroes – past and present?
Picasso. I saw Guernica. I sat in front of it for a while. I recognise and love all his phases and his history. Canova was almost perfection in sculpture; I became a fan of Raphael, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and all those that I represent within my art. My dilemma was how to translate those personalities – the Greats – into the world of today and make them relevant, so they can live with me in this lifetime. So I dedicate my art to them. It is my union with their era, fashion/costumes; but they are so serious so I add a touch of my style: a doll; a dog; a bird . . . I like mixing past with present. I also have a series of Aesop’s fables done in my style.
You are a traditionalist/rebellious art warrior, if there can be such a thing. Why?
Not really. I like leading, discovering, finding which is the best way of expressing or externalising myself. Although the search is the part of the warrior.
What are you working on now?
To finish the current group of puzzle art and I am already working on the Bestuarios – a series of metal sculptures. When I have 30 or so I will exhibit. After that I will look to do a series of collage – I’m always looking to use different mediums. Who knows where it will take me. The important thing is to take the Greats with me to include them in my work.
What mediums do you use?
In Bogota there was no money and few materials so we had to be innovative, use whatever we could find to come up with the goods. That gave me a base to be proficient in the use of many materials. Wood, I make three-dimensional miniatures of works that will become puzzles, with plastic I do the same.
Tell us of your process from inspiration to completed work of art . . .
I know how I want the final work to look like. In the morning I wake at six, I stay in bed with my eyes closed until seven, I pass the images of what I am creating through my mind’s eye, I correct them, deform them. By the time I get up I have almost the precise finished artwork. Then I draw it so as to remind myself of it.
If you could collaborate with any artists past or present who would it be?
Picasso, of course.
Plans for the future?
Keep on working and make up for lost time. Not as in lost life time but within my art. I want to make up the body of art that I did not do in the nine years of graphic design in South America. I want to see, to translate. I want to discover what is left for me to do. Like the Greats, I would like my work to make people stop and ponder, make them feel emotion in this rushed world we live in.
Sebastiano, it’s been a real pleasure.