At the flea market on Berlin-Friedrichshain's Boxhagener Platz, Mateo Dineen starts to sell his originals in 2004. Additionally, he displays photos of his originals there as a kind of catalogue. One day, a young boy is devastated when a picture he really likes is already sold and claims, “then you have to paint it again!“ Mateo has an idea: from that moment on, he starts selling art prints of his originals. That way, he gains attention in the quarter and can soon organise his own exhibitions. Johan Potma, himself an artist, visits one of Mateo's first exhibitions. They click immediately – on a friendly, creative and professional level. Not only are their style and technique similar, but also their ideas and interests. That is why they begin to scheme a plan in order to become their own, independent bosses. Each Sunday, rain or shine, they sell their original artworks together at the Boxi flea market, where they find many curious objects to use as a surface for their monster paintings. Among those objects are old suitcases, metal and wooden plates, doors and lids of wooden chests. Both artists cleverly integrate the material's scuffs, for example rusty nails and cracks, into their paintings. Their art attracts people.
Finally, in 2005, the Zozoville Gallery in Mainzer Straße opens its doors for the first time! The opening of their small business is extraordinarily well-frequented and adequately celebrated. The gallery's walls are decorated with originals and framed monster art prints. The surfaces are full of extraordinary, decorative elements such as an old chewing gum disposer, cigar boxes, rusty musical instruments and dried flowers.
The vintage look is not forced and does not follow the trend of recent years. Zozoville's monster inhabitants steadily grow in numbers. Eagerly, Mateo and Johan create new creatures and have a good nose for the latest trends: Climate change, expanding digitalisation, but also bands like Joy Division and popular series like Breaking Bad. Nevertheless, they also depict themes that move people regardless of time, space and age.
Gradually, the monster paintings attract the attention of the media. Johan and Mateo give interviews, for example in the Tagesspiegel and Die Welt, but also in international art and culture online blogs like the Beautiful Bizarre Magazine. A few short animated videos are produced for Nickelodeon. Anthony Bourdain, an American author and TV documentary presenter, interviews both of the artists in their gallery.
Zozoville is thankful for its monster fans – slowly, the small business can expand. Besides the traditional Kalendarium which is published since 2012 as a limited edition, frequently, there are new products. With the growing monster repertoire the original gallery in Mainzer Straße gets too crowded. As of 2018, you can find the Zozoville Gallery in Simon-Dach-Straße, where the monsters have more space. The online shop allows it to spread the monsters out into the wholde world.
When he watches a Making Of on Star Wars as a kid, Mateo is amazed by the fact that adults make a living from making monster puppets. Despite that, he enrolls for studying mechanical engineering and communications theory/advertisement. He then drops out of his studies in order to go on a road trip with a friend in a VW bus through the United States. The sense of freedom he encounters on his journey has a huge impact on his way of thinking: better to do what he likes and is passionate about, than ending up doing something he does not enjoy at all. Back in San Francisco, he enrolls at the Academy of Art to study illustration. There, he learns self-discipline: To keep up with his fellow students and to artistically improve, he quarantines for two weeks, cancels all plans with his friends, and practises each and every day – successfully. Slowly, he establishes himself as an artist in the local scene, but in 2002, he moves to Berlin for love. There, he and the Dutch painter Johan Potma start selling their art at Boxi fleamarket, before opening the Zozoville Gallery together in 2005.
Most of the time, Mateo uses acrylic paint for his pictures and historic materials as surfaces. Every now and then, he puts his monsters into old landscape paintings. Other times, old stamps and lettering shine through the layers of paint, intertwine history with present. The effect: a timeless painting, sometimes even melancholic.
As some of his artistic influences, Mateo names the Muppets, Tim Burton, Dr Seuss and Jim Hensons. Mateo constantly carries a pen and paper on him. His inspiration he gets from books, music, expeditions through the city and the world, daily life and bizarre German words with which he likes to play. His children's book Monsta! is popular with people of all ages. He keeps the child in him alive, but it can be a very disciplined child in terms of making art. He scribbles, doodles, erases and changes eagerly before translating his ideas into a painting. Therefore, it is important to him to connect emotionally to items and collage materials he wants to integrate in the painting. If something moves him, that is the starting point for a new art work.
“I’m always looking forward to the next exciting idea that I can come up with to paint, always hoping it’ll be my best yet. But at the end of the day, the journey is the goal.“ (Mateo, in: Molocha, Danai: The Benevolent Monsters of Johan Potma & Mateo Dineen: Interview. 02.12.2015, in: https://beautifulbizarre.net/2015/12/02/the-benevolent-monsters-of-johan-potma-mateo-dineen-interview/. Last viewed: 24.03.2020.)
Mateos Skallywag Gallery is located in Herrfurthstraße 10 in Berlin-Neukölln.
Johan graduates in graphic design and illustration at the Minerva Art Academy in his home country, the Netherlands. In 2004, he moves to Berlin for love and works as a graphic designer for a Berlin company. In the same year, he visits one of Mateo Dineen's first exhibitions in Friedrichshain. Soon, they start selling their art together at the fleamarket at Boxhagener Platz, before they eventually found the Zozoville Gallery in 2005. Among Johan's commissioners are Titus Skateboarding. Nickelodeon and Playboy. Furthermore, his illustrations are published in Luerzer's Archive 200 Best Illustrators Worldwide (2007-2009) and The Upset (Die Gestalten Verlag).
Before he starts a new painting, he enjoys just doodling mindlessly and letting the ideas flow within the process. It has a therapeuttic impact on him. His paintings are often dominated by sepia colours. Johan's inspirational sources change a lot - they can even be Bob Ross. For him, ideas occur when he does not need to worry about a thing and can relax. He also likes to work with collages, such as botanic articles and other fragments of scientific journals, drawings, and even shopping lists. Those different layers give the painting a wondrous, organic depth. Many times, his detailed pictures include lettering and writing. His monsters are the ironic expression of how Johan perceives the world and his surroundings. Some of many examples thereof are the old photographs from the first decades of the medium, especially family portraits, which he enriches with his monsters. Thus, he interweaves then and now in the most bizarre and hilarious way. Together with the Australian comedy duo The Umbilical Brothers, he created the children's book A Monster in My House.
If he were not one of the creative motors behind Zozoville, Johan would love to explore the world of insects or deep sea creatures, or to be a stand-up comedian, though the mere thought gives him cold feet. If Johan had to decide for a life philosophy, it might be this:
“Take things as they come and try to make the best of them; try not to let money or fear motivate your actions.“ (Johan, in: Big Beautiful Chunks of Time. 23.02.2010, in: https://web.archive.org/web/20121003041509/http://www.commarts.com/insights/big-beautiful-chunks-time.html. Last viewed: 25.03.2020. Original article in: http://www.commarts.com/insights/big-beautiful-chunks-time.html)
Johans gallery, The Cheese Mountain Tragedy, is located in Schönleinstraße 32 in Berlin- Kreuzberg.