Dave Navarro discusses inspiration for new Austin exhibit, “Duel Diagnosis”

People looking at artworks at the exhibit

Works from Al Diaz accompany the “Duel Diagnosis” exhibit. | Photo via West Chelsea Contemporary, © David Brendan Hall/www.davidbrendanhall.com

David Brendan Hall

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Dave Navarro is best known as the guitarist in iconic rock bands Jane’s Addiction + the Red Hot Chili Peppers, but he’s also made a name for himself in a new creative endeavor: visual art.

In partnership with L.A. artist PADHiA, Navarro began an apparel line called “Duel Diagnosis” centered on mental health awareness. That effort has since expanded into prints, street art, fine art, and even NFTs.

Navarro + PADHiA’s work is currently on display at the West Chelsea Contemporary until April 17, so we spoke with him about his inspiration + process in creating the pieces for the Austin gallery.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

What’s the origin story of “Duel Diagnosis?”

I became familiar with PADHiA’s work through just osmosis. … And I actually fell in love with one of her pieces and reached out to her to buy it from my collection. And we ultimately became friends and struck up a dialog wherein we shared a lot of the similar challenges and traumas that we had had in our lives.

“Duel Diagnosis” came about as a byproduct of a conversation we were having. … The real concept behind the whole thing is to de-stigmatize the conversation around mental health awareness and mental health in general. We’re speaking to a group of people that sometimes feel like outsiders or like they don’t fit in or don’t have a clear sense of community. … We felt that, you know, we can speak to them and help them feel less alone.

What initially drew you to street art?

I became friends with Al Diaz, who’s the other artist showing in Austin. And we did some work together, and I got the opportunity to work with him and go into the New York subways and kind of do some pieces with him. … I also loved that at the time, it was very anonymous.

I was always part of these collaborative efforts that were very visible. I can now step into a realm that’s creative, that’s a singular voice, and it’s also anonymous. There was no attachment to my history, musically or as a visible figure. It was just the messaging and just the art.

My whole house now has become a studio, and [work from] all the other street artists that I’ve come to be friends with and love are now hanging in my house. I mean, they’re not even hanging on the walls, I just had them do what they do directly on the walls as if it was on the street. So, walking through my house is a little bit like walking through downtown Los Angeles.

Al Diaz’s work is alongside yours in the exhibition at West Chelsea Contemporary. How do you think his art supports and complements yours?

What we do and have done is very abstract. We are focusing on the nervous system, and on how trauma gets stored in the body, and we’re talking about very interpretive things. What Al does, his own artistic fashion, is very message-specific and very literal.

We look at it as showing the two hemispheres of the brain, one being really abstract, and one being very intellectual. And so the marriage of the two forms of art, I think, really encapsulates the human brain. That was a choice.

When West Chelsea asked us who else we would like to show, my first impulse was Al Diaz, because not only is he a friend and a mentor and does incredible work, but I love the contrast. What he does appears to not be in alignment with what we do, but when you zoom out and look at the show in its entirety, it is very much in alignment. In fact, it’s completing what we do.

Characters at the exhibit

Navarro + PADHiA created two characters as part of “Duel Diagnosis,” named I and i. | Photo by ATXtoday

What is it like translating personal experiences into artwork?

Wow, well, it’s cathartic. It’s scary; it’s vulnerable. These are all words that come up and they’re all equally true. I think one of the beautiful things about our partnership is that there are things that I noticed and I’m aware of within PADHiA, and things that she notices and is aware of within me, and we kind of point those things out to one another. So had it not been for the partnership, there may not be certain elements of my life I’d be able to access and put into the artistic form.

Doing the nervous system paintings — which emulate the nervous system and neurons in all sorts of different abstract ways — we were physically working on those pieces at the same time. So the line work that you see, some of its mine and some of its hers.

And our hands work in different ways. Because I suffer from anxiety, my hands will shake. And so, there I was embellishing a print in my garage, and I got shaky and I thought, “Oh no, I ruined this print.” And PADHiA was the one who pointed out the beauty and the uniqueness of the line, because it was jagged. And so that gave birth to working on these nervous system paintings. If you look at them, you may not be able to tell who did what line, but we certainly can.

Can you talk a little bit about the characters you created for this exhibit?

That’s I and i — one is capitalized I and one is little i — and they are traumatized souls that have built this protective environment to protect themselves from the world and further trauma. And they become friends. And they use these tools of arcane psychiatry to create a world for themselves where they’re happy.

And I think that’s one of the things we’re trying to say, is that everyone has challenges and everyone has different forms of trauma and different things that have happened to them in their lives that are painful. And we look at those things as opportunities to find beauty and create something that’s happy and something to celebrate. … Ironically, it wasn’t until about two years after the creation of those characters that PADHiA and I realized, “Oh my god, that’s us.”

That’s one of the pieces that I love the most. It says, “shame never saved anyone.” And, you know, we feel that with shame and criticism and all those elements that that people experience. By holding onto them and locking them up inside, that can lead to some really destructive thinking or behaviors and further suffering. It’s about sharing those experiences and feeling less alone.

What kind of feedback or response have you received since launching “Duel Diagnosis?”

Oh, my god, I mean, the feedback has been overwhelming. We get messaged every day by people who are super grateful that we’re saying what we’re saying, and super touched by the way we’re saying it. There’s obviously a tremendous darkness that’s inherent in the imagery, but it’s also darkness that has been executed with a smile. We almost want to say, it’s not only that you’re not alone, but it’s almost a joke how not alone you are.

I think that one of the pieces in the show I love the most is the “live laugh, love, die, cry, hate” piece. We’re all familiar with the phrase “live, laugh, love” or “happiness is a choice.” For someone who’s really suffering, they can’t identify with that. When I’m in my darkest moments and someone tells me happiness is a choice, it’s nearly impossible for me to access that concept, let alone make that choice. So what we did was, we took the “live, laugh, love” and we did the contrary panel “die, cry, hate,” because we wanted to complete the story. Life is both panels. And all of it is okay.

The art exhibit will run until April 17 at the West Chelsea Contemporary located at 1009 W. Sixth St., #120. Find details on how you can visit here.

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