A design spirit: Tim Novara creates a surreal world inspired by architecture and international travel
It’s no surprise to learn that Tim Novara’s favorite toys growing up were Legos. Growing up in suburban Chicago, he looked forward to trips around the city to admire the buildings and bridges, almost as much as he planned to return home to create his own buildings with the iconic toy bricks.
“Even when I was in high school, I always said I wanted to be an architect,” says Novara, who took additional drawing lessons when he was young.
This is evident in the dazzlingly colorful and design-inspired artwork he produces. Drawing as much inspiration from Pop-Surrealists as Impressionism, Novara continues to construct worlds with her hands, albeit one based on an existing real-world structure.
“I always start with a place, an object, a building, a monument, something that grounds the piece,” Novara explains from her home and studio in Hillcrest. “And I go to all of them. So all the places you see in these rooms, I’ve been there and experienced.
He draws and takes pictures of the places he visits – places as varied as Zacatecas, Mexico and Berlin, Germany. He then begins to digitally manipulate the image, adding paints and patterns, improvising and evolving with different color treatments as the piece progresses.
“It’s the real world, but it’s altered,” says Novara, who cites author Haruki Murakami as one of her biggest influences. “It’s almost like a dream or a memory, something that’s just a little off. To show that there is more than one side to the world.
And much like the worlds of artists such as Zaha Hadid, SH Raza and Federico Babina, Novara’s acrylic-based paintings are rooted in that lifelong love for design and architecture.
This is evident in pieces such as ‘Among the Crowd, Berlin’ and ‘Exhale, Palm Springs’, brightly colored pieces that combine geometric patterns and lines orbiting around a building or structure. The structure itself is manipulated in a way that gives it almost illusory dimensions, as if the viewer is watching it unfold and unfold without losing its integrity. Almost abstract in nature, the result is something like the blueprint of a building which, while existing in the real world, is bent and reformed by our subconscious.
“It’s all based on my background in architecture and the way I looked at the world, through that lens of an architect; analyze and break things down into lines and shapes, shapes and colors,” says Novara.
This approach really took shape while studying at Syracuse University in upstate New York. While design and architecture had been a lifelong obsession, it was in Syracuse that Novara says he discovered he preferred a much more analog method of design, preferring to draw his designs and plans on mylar paper. rather than using computer programs.
“I loved creating with my hands. I did all my drawing in ink and pencil,” recalls Novara. “It’s really the basis of everything I do now.”
Just before graduation and after spending months shoveling snow and sliding on ice during freezing Syracuse winters, Novara says a friend mentioned he was moving to San Diego. He jumped at the chance to go with her and has stayed here ever since. And while working in architecture and advertising firms, Novara says he often felt uninspired after leaving the office. It wasn’t until 2019 that he quit advertising to focus more on his creative endeavors while working full-time as an administrator at the University of San Diego.
“It was that year that I really decided to try to make it a commitment for myself,” Novara recalled, adding that this COVID-19 pandemic, with its isolation and confinement at home , also helped to refine his work. “That’s about when I really got serious about it. Thinking about how I get my art out there and sharing it beyond this personal thing that I like to do.
Novara says he also saw a unique opportunity to use his art to help raise money for organizations that had to cancel fundraising events such as the San Diego LGBT Community Center in Hillcrest. He commissioned and created pieces, then donated all sales to the Center. Since then, he has remained true to this philosophy that art should be used to “make a difference in the world”, most recently creating new works to help raise funds for refugee organizations like the International Rescue Committee. .
“I used the pandemic as an opportunity to gain experience while making a difference in some way,” Novara says. “I was lucky enough to have a job, but I knew there were other people and organizations that were struggling, so I also took this opportunity to advance my work. It’s a cool way to give back and support the local community.
He also used the time to create a series of intricately designed watercolors made up of stacked box shapes that are single colored and, when taken together, result in a series of almost hypnotic patterns.
“These pieces take a lot of time, layer upon layer,” says Novara, who wants to expand the series, making them even bigger. “So they are moving very slowly. It takes me a month just to finish a play.
Novara has just completed a solo exhibition at the L’Atelier Gallery space in Bankers Hill and is currently working on new pieces for the Superfine Art Fair in Los Angeles. He is also working on more recent urban pieces that focus on his recent travels to places such as Vienna, Austria, and Shanghai, China. After taking part in a group exhibition at the Visual Gallery in North Park, he is also in talks to do a solo exhibition at the space next year. And while San Diego is inspirational (see his pieces that include structures like the North Park Water Tower), travel remains his most trusted source of inspiration.
“From modernism to medieval and renaissance architecture, when I travel I go to places that have those elements that I want to include in my work,” says Novara. “That’s what really excites me. That’s where the inspiration comes from and there’s so much out there. It is an endless well.
Combs is a freelance writer from San Diego.
Meet the artist
Last name: Tim Novare
Born: Wiesbaden, Germany
Fun fact: Novara’s early work was more collage-based. He often included pieces of vintage travel guides and maps in the works to give the work a sense of place.