Since we last talked to Berlin-based illustration duo Zebu, comprised of Lynn Lehmann and Dennis Gärtner, the pair have expanded their practice. “We both finished our MA studies and illustrating and painting became a real job for us,” Lynn tells It’s Nice That. “We moved out from our home studio into a real one and last year we travelled around the world to work on different jobs and projects,” she adds.
Continuing and developing their bold, colourful style that they’ve established, featuring distinct shapes and figures, the duo have reduced the form towards the abstract. Previously, stick-limbed people mingle and feature most prominently in their paintings, but their recent work has seen more experimentation in shape, colour and dynamism while keeping their lighthearted visual language. “We like to erase all the unimportant information and focus on the essence,” Dennis says. “There is no fixed agenda in our work, but there is definitely a motivation for the way we paint. Through reducing and abstracting the form of the human body, we create figures which can’t be assigned to a specific gender or nationality,” he continues. In this way, viewers always have a chance to identify with their work.
“There are hardly any projects we work on individually,” Dennis explains. “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.” There are moments, however, when both of them get stuck in a creative rut. When this happens, the two go for the oldest solution in the book: they go for a walk. “[It] gives you the chance to look at your work in a different way. Maybe you will discover the shape, idea or a colour combination that you’ve been looking for hours on the drawing desk by accident,” Dennis explains.
The element of play features heavily in their work, from the way they pose their figures, how they document their work, as well as the physical manifestation of their illustrations, but perhaps this playfulness is just an expression of the freedom that they seek. “Looking back, we think what fascinated us is that illustrating and painting gives you the freedom to create your own images, free from reality or naturalism,” Lynn says.
However, the pair is far from an unobservant bunch. After working on a number of rug-inspired murals, the two decided that it was about time that they made an actual rug, working with the Tiglmamin cooperative in Morocco formed by a group of female weavers. “The creative process with the women was really refreshing,” Lynn says. “What is really fascinating about their work is that they are weaving the design mainly from memory.”
The two have also just completed one of their biggest project to date – a 12-storey mural in Berlin dealing with “the topic of biodiversity and the need for a more sustainable lifestyle in times of climate change,” Dennis tells us. Their figurative illustrations, eye-catching and spirited, is a result of their constant collaboration, experimentation and from being unafraid to put their ideas front and centre every single time.