Graffiti and urban art culture were Zebu’s first introduction to design and art, who have mainly painted in abandoned buildings or squads around that time. Since then, the artistic duo, consisting of Lynn Lehmann und Dennis Gärtner, has constantly evolved its personal style, characterized by its energetic and intelligent use of color. After they have founded their studio in 2015, they have occuped a unique space in the illustrative sector. Apart from more intimate projects, like handmade screenprints, books and zines, the duo is known for their public murals, which sometimes span entire walls. Reducing the elements on their paintings to abstract and simple forms, Zebu’s characters are often a mixture between organic curves, bold lines and repeating patterns.
“The way we paint is a result of the way we see the things around us”, Zebu says on their reduced and bold visual language, “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.” Through reducing and abstracting the form of the human body, Zebu creates figures which can not 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 divers society in our works, not a stereotype one.”
The Berlin based duo has drawn a lot of inspiration from folk art in the last years, leading to a recently published publication about the collection of rug-inspired murals, they painted from 2016 – 2019 in different cities. “While researching we discovered amazing rugs, carpets or fabric patterns which had such a unique visual expression. This inspired us to create our own rugs”, Zebu explain, “Since it’s very expensive and time consuming to produce a real one, we decided to paint our rugs on walls. It became our fun-thing to do on a day off or during a relaxed painting session while traveling. After Some years we noticed the amount of rugs we painted and that it would be nice to collect them in a publication.” Since the beginning of the year, Zebu has experimented with a tufting machine, in order to make their own hand tufted rugs. “We have been super productive during quarantine and will release our first collection of rugs in the following weeks”, Zebu announce.
Apart from the painted rugs, the duo has also worked on some fashion items in the past, jumping to another medium. In 2017, they had the chance to collaborate with the Chinese fashion label ZUCZUG which is known for its original designs and the use of bright colors. “We like to work in different fields and mediums”, Zebu explain, “Experimenting has been an important part of our creative practice. We are always up for new projects or collaborations to extended our creative horizon.” Experimenting and trying out new techniques has always been an essential part of their work. “We think it plays an important role in developing our artistic repertory and helps to keep our work moving forward.” In the future, Zebu dreams of working on a big mosaic mural, once again testing out the ways of working that best suit her.
As the duo works together “on as good as anything”, from drawing the first sketches to finalizing the composition and discussing the colorings, collaboration is clearly at the heart of the studio’s ethos. “First step is talking about the general concept. We think this part is one of the most important ones while collaborating since it brings us on the same page”, the duo talks us through the process of working together, “Second step is sketching first ideas. Sometimes we have our own drawing sheets for doing sketches, sometimes we sketch together on the same one. But we always talk about it together and take the good aspects of the different ideas we brought to paper. Of course, at certain points of the work, the tasks are split up. However, the image-ideas and forms are always created together. There are hardly any projects we work on individually.” If the duo gets stuck during the creative process, they often go out for a walk, in order to gain a new perspective on their work and find some inspiration for color combinations and shapes in their surroundings. “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.”
Despite their abstractness and simplicity, Zebu’s work often touches upon difficult social issues, like the human imprint on our environment, the refugee crisis or the effects of the pandemic. “We don’t think we have a special social responsibility as artists. We all have a social responsibility as humans. That sounds cheesy”, the duo adds on the matter. With the bright colors and energetic shapes, the duo manages to spread those important messages, while keeping their positivity and optimism alive.