Interview with the Berlin based artist duo ZEBU

Interview with the Berlin based

artist duo ZEBU

by Laura Vetter

ZEBU is a creative duo from Berlin, consisting of Lynn Lehmann and Dennis Gärtner, who have been active together for seven years and gained international recognition over the course of time with their powerful art. Balanced compositions full of vigorous colors, a bold dynamic imagery as well as quirky, humorous and abstracted figures characterize the duo’s unique style, which finds its home in drawings, zines, murals and exhibitions, transporting its viewers into colorful, almost surreal worlds. In doing so, ZEBU is committed to taking art out of traditional art spaces and showing it in public spaces, consciously breaking down the barrier that has long existed between the art world and the general public in order to make art accessible to everyone. Laura Vetter from Street Levels Gallery has spoken with the duo about their artistic development, their inspiration, the nature of their collaboration, and the messages that their works convey.

ZEBU, how and why did you decide to choose the street as one of your creative means of expression? 

Since the beginning of our artistic footsteps we loved to paint murals. What we like about working on walls is that we get the opportunity to present our work to a big variety of people. This gives us the chance to inspire and talk to a diverse audience which would maybe never visit art institutions. Moreover, working on a mural is a welcome variety to the daily life in the studio, because we have to use our whole body to paint on that scale.

Mural artwork by ZEBU in Aielli, Italy for the Borgo Universo Festival in 2022.

Since 2015 you have been active as an artist duo. What is your creative and artistic collaboration like? Does each of you have his/her special field or is everything worked out together?

Since we both work as a duo, we have the advantage to come up with ideas together. We work together on as good as anything. We sketch together, create the composition together and discuss the colorings together. Sometimes we have our own drawing sheets for doing sketches, sometimes we sketch on the same one. But we always talk about it and take the good aspects of the different ideas we brought to paper. Of course, at certain stages of the work, the tasks are split up when it comes to execution. However, the image ideas and forms are always created by both of us.

Cooperation has many advantages for us. We can inspire and motivate each other. One person can pick up the train of thought or the line of the other and continue it. This way we are able to create a visual language which we could hardly achieve individually. And we can always discuss, feedback and improve our ideas together. Moreover, there is always a person who can balance out the work if one of us has a bad day. There are barely any projects we work on individually.

What are your sources of inspiration?  

There is not one thing/artists we can name that inspire us (because there are so many!). Inspiration can be found everywhere, we find inspiration in life, even if this sounds very cheesy. We get inspired by seeing new things and places, meeting new people, having a change of perspective. If we get stuck in the creative process, we often go out for a walk, where we are going doesn’t really matter. Distance gives you the chance to look at your work in a different way and maybe you will discover the shape, idea or color combination by accident for which you were looking for hours on the drawing desk.

Your work is bold, reduced, and humorous, characterized by vibrant colors along abstract, almost surreal figures. How would you define your style?

Exactly like that 🙂

What fascinates and excites you about abstraction and reduction?

When we look at an object, shape or figure we feel the need to reduce its form and make it more abstract. We like to erase all the unimportant information and focus on the essence. Through this creative process our work becomes bold and dynamic. Our motivation for reducing and abstracting the form of the human body is to create figures which can’t be assigned to a specific gender or nationality. Every person should have the possibility to identify with our work. We would like to depict a diverse society in our works, not a stereotype one.

When you design a work on the streets, how do you prepare it? Do you create a draft or are you inspired in the moment based on where you are? What is your creative process?

We like to create site specific designs for our murals. That’s why it is important for us to incorporate size, location, neighborhood, history of the building, etc. into our design process. But we barely ever improvise on a mural, most of the time we already have a sketch and concept worked out beforehand. Also, working as a duo requires a lot of talking and compromises which takes time. Mural works usually come with a pretty tight schedule which leads us to do this process in advance.

In addition to your painted murals, you use a variety of techniques and make screen prints, drawings, tapestry and zines. How important is it for your artistic practice to update, evaluate and test new creative approaches? Has there been a turning point in your technique?

We always like to try out new techniques and experiment with new mediums. With experimenting, we are able to collect new skills and broaden our horizon. We like to take these experiences to incorporate them into our already existing techniques and works. This way we are able to constantly learn new things and expand our artistic vocabulary.

Your works can be political and relate to current global issues such as those commenting on the EU’s refugee policy, climate change, and gentrification. What reactions do you want to evoke in the viewers? If you could change one thing about today’s society, what would it be?

We would like to point the attention of the viewers to these topics because one of the qualities of art is that it can start a reflection process. If people think or talk about these topics, the work already did a good job. We believe that exchange and communication are the basis for solidarity, empathy and tolerance, which are precious and important aspects of our societies today.

Which cities, countries or cultures are the most inspiring for you as artists? 

Every Country or culture can be interesting for us. We love to travel and see new places, meet people and get a glimpse into their cultures. You get the chance to observe unknown things and stories (some deep, some weird, some funny, some sad). You can learn from them and come up with new input and perspectives for your work.

What are you working on right now? What are your plans and dreams for 2023?

One thing which has been on our bucket list for a long time is doing a mosaic. Maybe 2023 will be the year for it 🙂

The author

Laura Vetter

Laura Vetter works for artistic and cultural organizations in the field of communication, project coordination, and consultancy. She enjoys asking questions and listening to answers. She writes about (urban) art for various online formats and on her blog

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