Studio Visit

These Intricate Woven Paintings Explore Creativity Within Contraints

Nina Walton has a pretty unique resume. The artist initially studied arts and law in Sydney, before spending some time in Los Angeles undertaking a PhD in Economics and working as a professor of law and economics at the University of Southern California.

More recently, she graduated from the National Art School in Sydney with a Master of Fine Arts, and has been working full-time on what can only be described as ‘weaving paintings’.

These detailed pieces combine layers of coloured thread, sewn into vivid and textural grids that immediately catch your eye!

Christina Karras

Inside Nina Walton’s Sydney studio.

Nina’s work is featured in a touring exhibition, New Exuberance: Contemporary Australian Textiles that’s currently showing at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery.

Nina’s current series features larger weaving paintings using three nested grids and smaller monochrome weaving paintings.

‘I never seem to have enough work around me so it’s nice to be building up a bit of an inventory,’ Nina says.

Nina’s work up close reveals how the colours change once layered into geometric patterns.

‘I have also started taking the weaving process to furniture pieces.’

These checkered grids are a characteristic feature of her work.

A nest of coloured cotton thread.

‘I really consider myself to be more of a painter who uses thread than a weaver because I have never been trained in weaving.’

She begins by creating a grid on the canvas.

Her space features corners for relaxing when her laborious process becomes too intense: ‘I have learned the importance of knowing when it’s time to stop for the day,’ Nina says.

Christina Karras
11th of April 2024

It takes Nina Walton about 40 hours to create just one of her intricate works.

That’s more than a week’s worth of work standing at the easel in her studio, painstakingly sewing coloured threads of cotton into a canvas as if it was a painting. ‘Except, I use thread instead of paint,’ the Sydney-based artist says.

‘I have learned to work very methodically and meditatively. If I’m not very present, I end up making mistakes. Even so, I seem to spend a lot of time unknotting threads that have gotten tangled!’

This tactile creative process is a world away from some of the working weeks Nina experienced earlier in her life, having worked as a lawyer and an economist before undertaking a Master of Fine Arts, and now, embarking on a career as a full-time artist.

‘I did a PhD in economics at UCLA when I lived in Los Angeles, with a specialisation in game theory,’ she adds. ‘I have always been interested in rules and games. My ongoing question is how to attain freedom within constraints, and all my work, whether in academia or art relates to this core idea’.

It is this fascination that has inspired Nina’s current body of work, which she describes as a ‘self-imposed game’. Each piece starts out like a challenge, where Nina consciously restricts herself by selecting a limited number of colours that she will weave into one of her unique grid formats.

She even writes down a set of instructions for how the work will come to life, but is always surprised at the end how a piece looks — ‘the wonder of the colour interactions is what I can never predict in advance,’ Nina adds.

At the moment, she’s playing with vibrant tones ranging from a Barbie-style fuchsia pink to more earthy tones like burgundy, layering them on top of each other to create something new altogether.

In addition to a series of large and small weaving paintings, Nina has started applying her weaving process to furniture pieces. ‘I love the idea of something that is both utilitarian and a piece of art,’ she says.

Like most of us, the economy has also been playing on Nina’s mind lately, and her former career as an economist has implored her to challenge traditional conventions about the art market, and how the way art is distributed often places artists ‘at the bottom of the food chain’.

Inspired by these ideas, last year, Nina opened the doors of her own Sydney apartment as an ad hoc art space dubbed Salon Magdalena, for artists to exhibit (and sell) their art to the public. The first show featured local ceramicist Issy Parker, who sold more than 100 pieces over the four-day showcase.

‘Salon Magdalena is not a gallery and I’m not a gallerist, but for the time the show was on, it became a meeting place between friends and interested people to gather and hang out and look at and buy art,’ Nina says.

It’s a creative solution that subverts the traditional art-selling model, and comes back once more to Nina’s fundamental interest in attaining freedom within constraints!

Nina currently has work showing in New Exuberance: Contemporary Australian Textiles curated by JamFactory Adelaide and currently on tour around Australia, and she also has an installation up at BTWNLNS in Newtown, Sydney. For all purchasing enquiries, contact Nina directly.

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