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When looking at a contemporary painting, we must always keep in mind its anachronistic essence. Present and forward looking images are often the result of the translation of ancient lessons, and are therefor filled with past knowledge. Nina Tobien explores the beauty of ancient fabric ornamentation, bringing a variety of neglected textile techniques before the eyes of the contemporary viewer.

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Born in 1974, Nina Tobien studied at Hochschule für Gestaltung, in Offenbach am Main, and at Staatliche Hochschule für Bildende Künste - Städelschule in Frankfurt am Main, benefiting from the important lessons of Heiner Blum and Michael Krebber. Currently living and working in Berlin, Tobien’s research gravitates around the process of “écriture automatique" and its relations with contemporary painting, focusing on the importance of the history of each material and on the emphasis that can be given to each personal character of her work.


Nina Tobien, Untitled (Color-Coded Scenery), 2019. Acrylic on dyed canvas.


An important aspect of Nina Tobien’s research is the great attention that the artist directs towards the discovery, study and usage of the materials that she finds during her travels around the globe, enhancing interesting aspects that can uprise from the manipulation of vintage fabrics, whilst constantly learning more and more about misused and neglected media. Tobien’s hunger for knowledge allows her to get in touch with ancient techniques regarding the usage of colour in textile dying, absorbing more and more information and enabling herself to create what are know as “batik” fabrics; a particular Indonesian textile technique which finds its origin from the words “amba” (writing) and “titik” (point, drop). The process of the “membatik”, which describes the ornamental act itself, is meticulously researched by Nina Tobien, whom applies her gesture and painterly technique to the act of textile decoration, a vast and various aesthetic imagery which allows the artist to learn about important aspects of both chroma and composition. For instance, this specific aspect of Tobien’s studies, put her in contact with a variety of lessons to be learnt from the past; the usage of the Japanese “real” Indigo, or also the discovery of the famous “Dragon’s Blood” of Sumatra, and even the Tjandjang, an indonesian tool useful for the creation of the aforementioned “batik” fabrics. 


Nina Tobien, Double, 2018. Acrylic, oil, natural pigments on dyed canvas.


When put before one of Nina Tobien’s paintings, the observer is enabled to experience all of the aspect regarding the above-mentioned ornamental and aesthetical pleasure, while letting go to the rhythm and flow expressed by the artist’s gestures and personal imprint, focusing on the relations that are obtained both within the canvas perimeter, and with the external and activating experience brought by the arrival of the viewer. The visitor is invested by a feeling of involvement surrounding the action that takes place on the depicted surface, experiencing a sense of participation towards the vibrancy of such poetic and dreamy images, letting go to the accidental encounters that are brought to him by Tobien’s motifs and compositions. 


Nina Tobien, Untitled (Snow in Spring), 2020. Oil on found repaired with real Indigo dyed canvas.


In the contemporary art world, and moreover in contemporary painting, past knowledge is a fundamental key towards future aesthetic achievements. It is crucial, for the minds that live within our present underworld, to undergo an anachronistic experience in order to obtain artistic emancipation. Nina Tobien dives deep into the ancient world on membatik and fabric ornamentation, aiming to resurface bringing to the viewer an interesting and dynamic translation of a variety of past and neglected codes. 


Nina Tobien, Level 04, 2019. Oil on wax batik dyed canvas.


Cover image: Nina Tobien, Untitled (Hiking Umbrella), 2021. Oil and soil on found textile.

Written by Mario Rodolfo Silva

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