This story begins in the flee market running every weekend in Boxaghener Platz, district of Friedrichshain, East Berlin. The venue offers a packed itinerary among antiques, second-hand bikes, vinyl copies and old cameras to rummage while the typical smell of currywurst spreads all around. Meanwhile, artists and musicians do live performances to entertain visitors.
For years, Boxaghener Platz has hosted the traditional Sunday gatherings of Friedrichshain monsters: they are gap-thoothed orges, 5-eye anteaters, sea creatures, some sort of human root and many other inhabitants of the imagination of two artists, Johan Potma and Mateo Dineen, that started ten years ago as street artists, and today get commissions from super-clients like Playboy, Pepsi, Nickelodeon, XXS, Jung von Matt, BBDO, Sixfeet, just to mention some.
“Every Sunday morning we were used to go to the flee market with the bike-trunk full of paintings produced during the week. By selling our artworks for a very cheap price - at that time of small dimensions mostly – we could earn enough to cover at least the expenses”.
Johan and Mateo, Dutch the former and American the latter, happen to meet in Berlin almost by chance. The two guys used to engage with a group of artists active in town, and similarities between them emerged pretty soon. Both share a sort of delicate and ironic view on world’s things and its human affairs, visions that reflect into their full-colour paintings. "We had a very good click", says Johan, showing an accent that absorbed the American inflection of the colleague.
For both Berlin was a choice driven by love: love for the women who then became their wives, and love for the German capital, that is widely renown for being one of the major in Europe when it comes to arts and creativity.
With very simple equipment, they started drawing in the back side of the square, and the success was as big as unpredicted. Accordingly, after a while they came up with the idea of running Zozoville, the first – out of the current four - artistic atelier in the heart of Friedrichshain. “We distributed flyers and posters all over the area and at the opening ceremony the number of attendees was extraordinary”.
According to its name, Zozoville is a suggestive pictorial studio populated by monstrous and romantic creatures coming from imaginary worlds that mix up natural elements, animal and human ones. Johan and Mateo’s tales bring on canvas stories of emotions and decadence, always linking to human experiences in real life.
“My creatures are a sort of filter to talk about stories I see and hear around. Often they are self-portraits”. The creation process is made up of pure instinct, abstractions and “Ironic approach while looking at human things”. And the ideal location for drawing is not very far: the back side of the atelier, where it stands a small studio full of brushes, colors and chaotic drafts. In fact, “Monsters would feel uncomfortable in luxurious gallerias”.
by Carlotta Comparetti