When did you know what you wanted to do in your life?
M: It didn't seem responsible to do art for a living. I thought engineering would be a good option for me, as they earn reasonably well and there’s quite a bit of drawing involved, so I signed up for that.
If you see or know someone in your life who makes a living out of art, then you’d probably try to do the same if that’s what you want, but I didn't know anyone who made money from art. Everyone had a job, so I thought I had to concentrate on finding a job too and build my career there. When I got a little older I started seeing people who actually made money from art and who didn't have to look for that ‘job’. It took a while for me to realize that it was actually possible. I was 20 when I first realized I wanted to do art, or that I should at least try it.
J: I've always known that I’d be an entrepreneur - it was always my goal. I never envisioned myself being employed. When I was young I was a skateboarder - totally inspired by the whole scene. That was the first direction I found in my life. Skateboarding gave my life a direction and it helped me make my own choices. When you’re a young skater learning new tricks, you get to face new obstacles all the time. When you’re unable to use your old tricks on the new obstacles, you get to learn to play around them, which creates a beautiful state of mind.
After that I knew I wanted to do something with art, but at that point I didn't have enough substance to be an autonomous artist. I was a young kid so I couldn't just start creating art. So I chose graphic design. I wanted to work in advertising - I loved the challenge of creating appealing advertising campaigns. Once I got into advertising I immediately wanted out, leaving the people powered by money behind. I switched to illustration and went back to art school, where I did 4 years of illustration, which was perfect. I could then take on assignments where I used my own language - it was absolutely beautiful. Finding my voice as an artist happened to me when I was at the art school. Teachers would tell me to start drawing with my left hand and discover my uniqueness that way. Drawing with your left hand (if you are right handed) might not create the prettiest line, but they are honest lines. This gives a unique perspective and separates artists from each other.
M: When I first started to draw I always wanted to draw monsters because there were no rules. When I was drawing monsters I knew that everything I drew was a 100% correct and no one could tell me otherwise. That’s the freedom I needed. When you find your language and you accept that then that’s it - you don’t judge yourself so much anymore...you just go. That’s an important step for any artist or anyone who is trying to find their individualiy. Letting go of all the expectations from the outside world and putting an emphasis on what you want for yourself rather than what others want from you. Find a process that is true to you.
Are you happy with what you've achieved?
M: Our partnership was a big factor in our success, even if it has its difficulties. On our own I don’t think we would have gotten this far. We've complimented each other in many ways and that’s what helped us with our big jump - in the creative and in the business side.
J: It all depends on what your expectations are. We were pretty content at any level of our venture. When we weren't making much money, we were already very happy. My choice was always to do what I loved, instead of focusing on the money.
M: We met 8 to 9 years ago and our situation has not changed much in terms of our lifestyle. What I’m trying to say is that when we earned 600 EUR a month it was enough for feel content. I was always hoping to build a better income, but it was actually enough for me to be happy.
J: If you have enough money to survive, and get to do something that you love on a daily basis, then that’s already very fulfilling. For us it was never about the money, but about making it by doing our art - doing whatever it took to make that jump.
Mateo's Work & Studio
My favorite paintings tend to be the ones that don’t tell you exactly what the story is. There should always be room for interpretation. The best paintings are interpreted in many different ways by different people. It encourages people to enter with their own ideas and feel like they've also taken part in expression.
When I begin a painting, I never really know how it’s going to end up. The story and the characters grow as I paint. My biggest hope is that I create paintings which people will relate to.
Images of Mateo's artwork via Mateo-Art.com
How was it when you first started working together?
J: Mateo was selling at flea markets and I was earning money from illustrations. I discovered Mateo’s work one day in Friedrichshain and decided to contact him. We met up and we immediately clicked.
M: We have sort of parallel lives. We were both new in Berlin, coming here with very similar dreams.
J: Even when we first met, we would have the same sketches and ideas for our paintings. We were both new in the city so meeting someone who is exactly in the same mind frame was amazing. It was great to be able to build something with this person and to be able to motivate each other and challenge each other. We’d push each other from the beginning - to constantly do better.
M: The year when we only had one shop was the most difficult time we had. The shop was so cramped that we could barely move. We both have very strong personalities and trying to let go of our egos in this situation was not an easy thing to do. It was a critical moment - we had to either kill the company or find a solution. Luckily we found a solution, which was to get our separate studios but keep the company together.
J: Our artwork was becoming too squashed into one space and people couldn't see the difference between the 2 artists anymore - so we had to get our artistic identity back.
Johan's Work & Studio
Images of Johan's Artwork via JohanPotma.com
How did you make it all work?
M: In one year (2012) we managed to open 3 other galleries. We still think it’s vital that we work together, but we realized that we needed our own work and personal spaces.
A lot of people are waiting or searching for that perfect job - offering them exactly what they need. Usually that job description does not even exist. I decided early in my life that I wanted to create my own job and find the people who will love my work. I went to flea markets and that’s where the public found me...so I was there every Sunday. You need to present your work to the right people. There’s enough people out there so there’s bound to be a group that fits what you're looking for.
J: The business structure we built works very well for both of us. When I joined Mateo at the flea markets, where we were standing side by side, we sensed a hint of competition in the atmosphere. We were worried about damaging the friendship, but we weren't ready to give up the market, because that was our main source of income. So we came up with a different idea - instead of standing side by side, we created a joined stand and a unified look. This started to feel much more harmonious. It became more efficient and the public appreciated it. It had its difficulties obviously, but then it started working so well that we were able to get a gallery together.
The Zozoville Interiors
J: You've got to keep the feeling that you still haven’t made it...stay there and enjoy the hell out of it. If you wait until you've made it….what does that even mean...it does not exist. It’s like waiting to be rich to be happy...that’s bullshit. You better be happy during the journey, because that’s what matters.
M: It’s all about the day to day experiences which lead you to your result. The process should be beautiful but what’s even more important is making sure that the things you do are beautiful in this process. Even though it’s sometimes very difficult to find the time to paint...when Life get’s in the Way…I make sure that the hours I have left for work are spent well. That's the thing with becoming an artist, you've got to find disciple in your life. You can actually carve out that time for what you’re passionate about, but that took me a long time to learn. When you’re a kid, you can do whatever you want and whenever you want, but as soon as you get a job you end up having less time. So I chose to spend that little time wisely - having less hangovers and evolving with my artwork.
People, Places & Events we Recommend
Friends and Family are our biggest inspiration and drive…
M: I’m inspired when I see artists in magazines who've made it and I like to see how they've done it. That’s what always gave me motivation and kept me going.
Musically - Tom Waits is my inspiration - he’s got a lot of textures in his music.
J: This changes constantly, but people who inspire me the most are those who are genuine in their art. I like people who bring change in their art and who always have a strong conceptual message within - whether its in music or in a painting. Something that makes an impressive statement.
Musically somebody like Beck - someone who uses honest instruments and who creates simplistic, yet beautiful, positive and creative sounds.
I also love a lot of stand up comedians - Demetri Martin is one of them - then Louis CK and Richard Pryor. What I like about Richard Pryor is that he’s an inventor of a certain genre of humor, where he brings his misery and suffering onto a stage - telling the story of him growing up in a brothel, raised by his grandparents and doing drugs. It’s not something that was done before him, but once he started a whole range of artists went into that direction and it’s still going on today - good example is Seinfeld. The joke is now on the comedian, which I find humble, beautiful and it’s easy to connect to. It’s also my point about Beck - he’s not necessarily a hero in the music world but he creates honest music.
J: My recommendation for people who come to Berlin is to rent a bike and just go. Doesn't matter which direction you go - just keep going. It’s such a great city with so many beautiful people - Life feels great here. Move around the city without a plan and without expectations.
M: I love going to Tempelhof to see the sunset. It’s my little playground, which is right next to my studio.