We got to sit down with Nina Torr and discuss some of her illustration work for her new exhibition Again and Again, showing at the In Toto Gallery in Johannesburg. The exhibition opening is on the 29th of October and will be running till the end of November.

DYD: Black or grey?
Nina Torr: Black

DYD: Wacom or wack comb?
Nina Torr: 
Wack comb

DYD: Why illustration? Why not sculpture or paintings? You are skilled in all of them.
Nina Torr: Illustration is currently the most enjoyable means of communication for me. It still feels new to me, which means I don’t always know what I’m getting myself into and that’s when cool stuff happens. I spent most of my education doing oil painting and sculpture, to the point where they gathered a bit of baggage. I would like to return to them again some time, but we haven’t forgiven each other yet.

DYD: Being a teacher at the Open Window what are your thoughts on what the future holds for the medium? Will the kids of today make a difference or just hack something they saw off of Tumblr ad infinitum?
Nina Torr: 
There will always be a few people who don’t really contribute to the dialogue, but just feed back things they’ve heard. At the same time, however, students surprise me with fresh ways of seeing things every year. Illustration is really starting to get quite a bit of attention at the moment, which is exciting, because it forces the field to challenge itself. It also shows that people still love stories and pictures.

DYD: Having studied in America in New York State in New York in Manhattan, you have been close to the apple core of the art scene in Muhrika. Any slices of wisdom that you feel we could/wish we would apply in South Africa?
Nina Torr: 
One thing I really liked about American schooling (or maybe it was just  Parsons), was that we didn’t have majors and minors. I had a few core subjects, but for the rest I had credits I had to fill and the options were so diverse. We could take a course on Bob Dylan, or building a canoe, or robotics etc. This way, I got a taste of things outside of my field of study, which is so important for an artist. Also, I got an appreciation for living in a city. One can share things in cities. You don’t need a car, you don’t need a washing machine, you don’t need a garden. All these things can be shared very efficiently in well-planned cities. I feel we’re afraid of that in South Africa. Everyone wants their own.

DYD: Excuse the pun but where do you draw the line between Fine Art and Illustration? Your work seems to be stuck in an imaginary world between the two.
Nina Torr: 
I don’t draw a line anymore. I used to (which was one of the main reasons I created a pseudonym for my illustration work), but not anymore. I feel anything that has been created can function as art, whether it’s a spoon or a sound. That’s not to say that everything succeeds, but it all has the potential. At the end of the day, fine art and illustration are just different ways of communicating ideas and I don’t believe there’s a hierarchy. However, that perceived hierarchy can sometimes be quite useful, because a person who feels alienated by art, might not be so scared of an illustration, and I quite like that accessibility.

DYD: Lots of discussion existed around photography as a medium and it was considered the ugly duckling of the art world for the longest time. It took a while for it to be shown amongst the big boys, such as painting and sculpture, in the galleries. Do you think illustration deserves to have the same gravitas as its older more established cousins?
Nina Torr: 
To a certain extent, but at the same time, the fact that it doesn’t have that expectation of gravitas, gives it a better chance of surprising people.

DYD: What is the difference between someone buying your work or just downloading your illustrations from your blog? Do you think about what the digital era means to people who make their “Milk and Honey” off of prints? What is the value of pictures in a world with 75 million daily Instagram users?
Nina Torr: 
Sho, that needs quite a long discussion. Personally, I’m not so interested in creating editions and digital work. I like looking at it and even buying edition digital prints from other people, but I thrive on the fear that comes from making an original. When you’re working with real materials you have this awareness that this can go horribly wrong, that you might waste a lot of paper and paint and one might not be able to fix it. When you’re painting in Photoshop, you just ctrl-z and try something else and I find that terrifying, because it just opens up too many options. I’ve found that other people thrive precisely because of that freedom though, so it’s merely a matter of what works for you. The value of pictures? Even though we are so overloaded by images on a daily basis, you can’t deny that some just stand out. They’re just playing in a different field, but they adapt. Pictures will take care of themselves, no matter how ridiculous we are.

DYD: To dust off an age old debate, where is the best South African city to be a creative in, according to Nina Wyeth?
Nina Torr: 
Pretoria, or perhaps Durban. I say Pretoria, because this is where I’ve made the most progress with my own work. I think it’s because Pretoria is so unsettled and unsure. It has so much potential, but it takes so bloody long to take hold of anything new. This can be frustrating, but I also feel this makes the process more organic and less constructed. One has to be creative here in order to make sense of all of that. I saw a talk by Garth Walker a few weeks ago and he said something along the same lines about Durban: Durban doesn’t know what it is, it’s not a metropolis, it’s not completely off the map, it’s confused, which is why it’s also good for creative output.

DYD: Complete the sentence, if I owned a piece by {insert famous artist here}, I would die a contented lady.
Nina Torr: 
Jan Van Eyck

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