Painting a life in the country


Painting a life in the country

words todd kuchel
>> Artist Nina Rupena

It’s amazing how life’s challenges can lead to inspiration and a zest for living life to its fullest.

Nina Rupena was born in Bosnia, where she lived until – at 12 years of age – war forced her family to leave and live as refugees in Croatia for five years.

There’s no denying the difficulty and challenges that Nina must have faced during that time, much of which could only truly be processed once it was over.

Nina reflects on the positives, learning many valuable lessons as a teenager and meeting the man who has since become her husband.

She and her family later left Croatia, arriving in South Australia in 1998.

“I pretty much went to uni right away,” Nina shares.

Her family is creative and artistic, so painting has always been a part of her life.

In the pursuit of a challenge, Nina decided to enrol in industrial design, in the hope of learning new skills to incorporate with her art.

“I wanted to work with my hands and the degree was great,” Nina explains.

But when she got a job as an industrial designer, she found that working for a big company was something she didn’t want to do.

“It was a dry office job,” she admits. “I thought, ‘I want to find my way, forge my own path’.”

After a couple of years, Nina quit her job and returned to university for a master’s degree in visual arts and during that time she started illustrating.

The next step, following her master’s, was a move to Melbourne with her partner, who had followed her to Australia. But once again, Nina felt like she was stuck in a hamster wheel.

“Melbourne was inspiring, but the pace of life was too fast and after a few years, we felt it was time for a change.”

Following the passing of a close friend, Nina’s partner suggested that they sell their possessions and go travelling.

“Losing a friend was a real wake up call,” Nina explains.

Nina and her partner, who is a graphic designer, realised that their jobs were portable, so off they went overseas, with nothing but each other and a backpack. They spent three years travelling and staying at organic farms, learning about permaculture.

They travelled to Japan, got on a Trans-Siberian train through Russia and then travelled around Europe. Croatia was a reoccurring pit stop where they stayed with family, before heading off again.

While travelling, Nina was securing all types of work from her online profile, from book illustrations to wine labels. Among her clients are government organisations CSIRO and ARRC (Australian River Restoration Centre).

“On a separate trip we explored Asia,” Nina shares. “We spent time in Malaysia, where I worked on a couple of projects for Tutti.”

Tutti is a South Australian non-profit organisation that provides arts programs for people with disability – and Nina collaborates on projects and works as an art facilitator.

Tutti has three locations in South Australia and Nina currently works at their Nuriootpa studio.

“I find myself learning a lot from artists there. It’s an inspiring place,” she said smiling.

In 2019, Nina and her partner decided it was time to settle down. They found a beautiful 1880’s-built cottage at Dutton on one and a half acres and fell in love.

Currently Nina and her husband are restoring their Dutton cottage using recovered materials and making it as sustainable as possible. Whilst restoring the building, Nina is studying permaculture and learning how to regenerate the land. And of course, she has a nice art studio for her work.

“I just love the place in Dutton, it’s my little playground,” Nina shares. “We do most of the renovations ourselves and get to learn all different skills. I get to be creative one way or the other.”

The courses Nina has done in the past have helped, because she has made furniture and worked with machines.

“We’re living the dream of waking up when we want, doing what we love and not rushing anywhere... most of the days anyway”

- Nina Rupena
>> Goran and Nina Rupena.

In her Dutton studio, Nina’s artwork has become inspired by the landscape around her cottage, from observing the soil and the land and trying to figure out what steps to take to be able to grow. She even has a resident echidna.

“I’m fascinated by the soil and nature’s way of regenerating itself,” Nina says. “The soil is the foundation of life and we have to look after it. I’m finding beauty in broken leaves, branches, and colours of the soil. It’s my way of connecting to the land.”

Currently Nina is exhibiting through Wonderground Barossa Art Gallery at Seppeltsfield, which is available for public viewing during opening hours.

There were challenges in her past, and many adventures that followed, but now Nina has found home.

“We’re living the dream of waking up when we want, doing what we love and not rushing anywhere… most of the days anyway.” Nina said smiling.

When asked about travelling again, Nina admits that she is just happy at the cottage, with a shovel in her hand.

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