Briefly describe the work you do.
I create experimental paintings by creating my own natural pigments and dyes that come from specific locations and experiences. I view my work as a collective documentation of a relationship and social exchange. Formally, the palette is earth-bound, and speaks toward the surface of the painting. I de-weave then reweave into the surface, creating lines of color, texture, and pattern.
Tell us a little about your background and how that influences you as an artist.
I started off studying Biology in MI and then was going to move to Florida in pursuit of a Marine Biology degree. I have an intense love and connection to the ocean. It sis not feel quite right though and a dropped the degree and moved to Chicago my junior year of college. It was at Columbia College when I found my balance of intellectual exercises with the Cultural Studies program and then a release of all the information swarming in my head in the Fine Arts Department. A year ago I started working with a Geologist and soon a Marine Biologist to further my research of natural pigmentation and self-sustainable art making. I think my background in Biology has not only informed my work, but also gave me the discipline to work consistently. When I dropped the Bio degree, I thought, what would happen if I used all this time I use to study and applied it to a topic/practice I love? Four years later, I am still engaged and loving every second of it!
The concept of the “artist studio” has a broad range of meanings, especially in contemporary practice. The idea of the artist toiling away alone in a room may not necessarily reflect what many artists do from day to day anymore. Describe your studio practice and how it differs from (or is the same as) traditional notions of “being in the studio.”
My studio practice is a mixture or reading, spending time out in the world exploring and talking to people, and then reflecting in the studio. When it comes to my studio time, I usually listen to music- Cesaria Evora is a favorite, or pop on some documentaries to listen to while I create my weavings. This time is incredibly meditative and calming for me. It is essential to my daily balance. When creating the natural dyes, much of the work is done in the kitchen. In regards to “traditional” studio practice, I enjoy being alone and not having multiple distracting factors, however, this practice can be done in a social setting as well. A lot depends on my mood and how chaotic the day has been.
What unique roles do you see yourself as the artist playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art?
Some unique roles that I did not expect I would take on as an artist was that of researcher. My background in Biology for instance has played an interesting role, both in my artwork and now in my work with NonToxic Print. Storyteller and even bridge-builder has been something that my practice presents as well. I enjoy learning about others and challenging stereotypes in hopes to present a commonality among us all. Embracing our differences, but underlining our humanity is something that I think about.
When do you find is the best time of day to make art? Do you have time set aside every day, every week or do you just work whenever you can?
The best time of day to make my art is around 6 or 7 pm. When I can I usually dedicate entire days (if possible) to my artwork. It is an incredibly slow, methodical process, but incredibly fulfilling! I have set periods of time set aside weekly, however I try to work as much as possible so squeeze in as much as I can on a daily basis. Some days I am successful, but some days work and other responsibilities need to be attended to.
How has your work changed in the last five years? How is it the same?
I started off as a realistic, figurative oil painter. So, five years ago, you would not catch me creating anything abstract, however, you probably would have found me frustrated in that I wanted to express an emotion, a feeling, but was unsuccessful. I kept thinking, there has to be more than skimming the surface, I wanted to dig in. That’s when I started to pull fabric (burlap) and start inserting memory and stories within. So in a sense, I started off with people and now am still with people, just my means of expression has changed.
Are there people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers or even pop icons that have had an impact on the work you do?
I have been blessed to have many inspiring and loving people in my life that motivate me daily. Since I was young my family has been my biggest cheerleaders. I am forever grateful to have such a wonderful, supportive family. As of late my Bynia has been a huge support, which helps me create my work more fluidly. I have also been blessed to have dear friends and mentors which have drastically inspired me. These people include Prexy Nesbitt, Michael Paxton, McArthur Binion, Friedhard Kiekeben, Carol-Haliday McQueen, Mario Castillo, Rachel Rynolds, Michelle Grabner, Haluna Cicuruk, and Marta Zubar. My studies in African histories and culture has influenced me a great deal. Reading about (and later visiting numerous countries) revolutionaries such as Toivo ya Toivo and SWAPO in Namibia, Madiba and Oliver Tambo with the ANC in South Africa, Amilcar Cabral in Guinea, Ruth First, Samora Machel, Graca Machel, Che Guevara, Fred Hampton, Fidel Castro, Taras Shevchenko, and Joe Slavo among others have inspired the background and thought process that leads to the development of my work. Kathe Kollwiz, John Muafangejo, Frida Kahol, and William Kentridge are among my favorite artists. I see research as essential to my practice, however, when looking at the pieces, it is not necessary that all this information be illustrated, just perhaps hinted at.
If you had an occupation outside of being an artist, what would that be and why?
If I had an occupation outside of being an artist, I would love to either become a baker and open up my own shop or become a political scientist. Cooking and baking has been a love of mine that started when I was young and my mama would teach me and my sister all the family recipes–we’d spend the whole day cooking/baking and laughing. One of my favorite recipes is a layered walnut, apricot torte. A few years ago I found a love for history and putting together “the pieces” of international relationships to try and better understand the world we live in today. I’m interested in why things happen or play out the way they do? I’m starting to see an undeniable pattern, especially in regards to US relations abroad. I believe that every person has a responsibility to one another, but if we do not understand a past, how can we build a future? Who knows, maybe that is what my future holds along with being an artist!
Nina Lawrin is a native Michigander who moved to Chicago three years ago in pursuit of a degree in Fine Art with a minor in Cultural Studies. Nina has had the privilege to travel extensively within the last few years to further her research in natural pigmentation and become enwrapped with the learning of different cultures, customs, and traditions. Nina is primarily interested in why people live their lives the way they do and how we as people interact with one another despite or perhaps because of these differences. Nina has traveled to Rocca Imperiale, Italy; Maputo, Mozambique; Sao Paulo, Brazil; and throughout South Africa. All of these experiences play a vital role in her work and understanding of others as well as herself.
To grasp and pull while twisting, pinching, spreading, crushing and massaging; clenching the very innards of an objects. Knowing full well that by ripping out what was once there and replacing it with a foreign object may cause it despair. Yet it heals, and becomes something more beautiful that I could ever imagine. The subtle scars of the process that had taken place is all that is left. To challenge myself to see I could nurture foreign ideas, people, customs, traditions, taboos into my own life is an everlasting challenge. Can I be compassionate enough to try and understand? To re-work prejudice and thoughts of what life “should” be? To try to be open enough to let new ideas flow, letting them shape to whatever form it may be. Perhaps resulting is something more beautiful that i could have ever imagined. Ripping, pulling, spreading, shoving, crushing and massaging though: creating scars of past memories and growth.
This project is partially supported by a grant from the Albert P. Weisman Award, a private trust affiliated with Columbia College Chicago.
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.