Artists We Love: Nina Torr

INTERVIEWED BY Lindi Brownell Meiring

We caught up with Pretoria-based artist Nina Torr to find out more about her illustrations, out-of-the-ordinary figures and brand-new exhibition.

When did you first start illustrating?

I’ve been drawing and painting my whole life and I studied Fine Arts at university, but I’d say the first actual illustration I did was in 2011. I was struggling to find work at the time, so to keep myself busy and try make some extra cash I started designing tattoo flash. I didn’t actually earn much extra cash from it, but the drawings did lead to what eventually became an illustration career.

How would you describe your work?

My work seems to hover somewhere in between illustration and painting. I’m trained as an oil painter and I’ve always loved pictures and the stories they tell. I try to create work that looks fairly friendly and accessible at first, but hopefully draws you in to a slightly deeper story. I mostly work in ink or gouache, but I’ve started exploring some screen-printing, monotypes and digital illustration. It seems to be characterised by a fluid outline, combined with flat bright colours and fine details.

Your pieces often depict other-worldly creatures and figures. Where do you get inspiration for these creations?

I’ve been very influenced by old religious painting like those found in the Nuremberg Chronicle. I’m also drawn to early Netherlandish painting, like Van Eyck’s stiff and obsessively detailed work. I enjoy looking at work that is perhaps not technically accurate, but painted so deliberately that it becomes its own thing, such as naïve scientific illustration, or outsider art, or alchemical illustrations. I also enjoy looking at work that seems to be based on descriptions, rather than visual reference, such as medieval or early Renaissance paintings of animals, especially lions. They tend to be fantastically wrong, but far more interesting than if they were right. I’m also very interested in Moebius and Hokusai at the moment and I’m starting to research mythology and fairy tales more than I used to, so that I can draw from existing stories as well as my own.

Which up-and-coming local artists would you like to work with, and why?

I suppose I would like to work with someone whose work is completely different from mine, which would probably also involve a different field. So I’d say I’d like to work with an animator or game designer, or a fashion designer. I’m very impressed and inspired by the work that the fashion designer Sheila-Madge Bakker is busy doing. I’m very drawn to masks and costumes and her work is very theatrical, so there might be something to explore there.

What can we expect from your upcoming exhibition The Way Back at 99 Loop in Cape Town?

At the beginning of last year I had my previous solo at 99 Loop, called Still at Sea, which was largely about transitions and liminal spaces. I then had a two-person show at In Toto gallery last October called The End of Something, which had something to do with putting old ideas to rest. So now for The Way Back, I’m finding my way back home and reconsidering some old ideas. A lot of the work is about navigating emotional landscapes and trying out new roles, as well as dealing with circumstances beyond one’s control.

What are your plans for 2018?

Apart from a few group shows I haven’t committed to very much just yet, which is a big relief to me. I’ve begun speaking about developing a mobile game, but it’s very much in its infancy. I hope to revisit some experiments in costume, masks and theatre, but I’ll see as I go along.

View more of Nina’s work on Behance or at