Emerging artist OKO discusses inspiration, street art, and her creative aspirations

One of the most well known and prolific young artists in Croatia, OKO gained recognition while a student at Zagreb’s Academy of Fine Arts by taking her art out into the streets. Now, she is exhibiting at museums and galleries citywide and collaborating on architecture and design projects while making sales and taking commissions.

OKO, it seems, has managed to embrace both fine and street art, literally making her mark wherever she can because, well, she simply loves to draw.

Most often, she draws detailed black-and-white Victorian-inspired curiosities or smartly dressed animals — a human skull bearing a third eye, for example, or an owl wearing a waistcoat. When not working on these meticulous drawings, she paints vibrant, colorblocked landscapes populated by imaginative creatures. Whichever style OKO chooses (and sometimes, she freshly combines the two), a playful mysticism and sincere approach to spirituality permeates her work.

OKO recently sat down with us to tell us more about the creatures she creates, her future plans, and her thoughts on being a “street artist.”

As a subject, anthropomorphic animals have become rather popular recently. Why exactly did you start drawing them?

I draw different things and have at least two completely different styles: one is old school black and white animal creatures, and the other one is full-color childish ghosts and beasts. Sometimes I use one style and sometimes the other, it depends on my ideas and spiritual condition.

As for the animals, I grew up in a village with my grandma, and her house was next to the forest, so it was natural that as a kid you got lost in nature, and in all the barns around the village. You just feel really connected with the animals and nature, so in a way there is not such big difference between those creatures — plants/animals and humans.

Portrait of Four Keepers. HDLU

Portrait of Four Keepers. HDLU

What about the clothes themselves? They are always so detailed and perhaps even historically accurate. Do you research fashion history to make your drawings?

Sometimes today I miss some of that idealistic old school human gentleman behavior, and I romanticize that people used to be “better” — that’s why I always dress my animals in those times, so they can be like some wise messengers from the past, that are going to remind us of all the good things we have in us.

I do research a lot. Sometimes it takes me a week or two to find the perfect combination in my head. Drawing is easy physically, but the whole idea takes time.

How do you create these characters? Does each have its own personality?

Yes, they do have unique personalities, they are not just drawings — they are alive. I just think a lot. I don’t know how that happens, when your ideas and thoughts about the world and some special ideas suddenly get the final look. Sometimes I don’t know what animal its going to be when I start to think I will draw it: the image just comes to me in a way — the whole character.

Happiness of True Friendship

Happiness of True Friendship

Do you have any particular creative influences?

Most of my inspiration comes from memories mixed with every day life. I read a lot, and sometimes you just find some sentences that tell you everything you need to know in that moment.

I like Rousseau and C.S. Lewis, but I will start to read some Croatian writers (like I.B. Mažuranić) again.

So, you studied at the Academy, became a recognized street artist, and now you are showing your work in museums and galleries. Is it possible to be both a fine artist and a street artist, or are you expected to be one or the other?

I try not to think about what I am expect to be. Sometimes I think my whole life has turned out to be unexpected, and I’m not even halfway yet, so who knows what’s going to happen in the future.

I don’t like idea that you need to be something. I love drawing, I love drawing all the time, so for me it’s not that important where. Sometimes I have a concept and an idea of when I want it to be, but sometimes you’re spontaneous, and you need to follow that.

Hand painted Skateboard decks

How do you see your work evolving in the future?

Well, don’t know. I figure out its change when I move, and I’m moving soon again, so who knows. I have some ideas in my head that I want to try, completely different from things I have done until now. But I believe that at one point it’s all going to melt together anyway. Probably we all just need to wait for it!

OKO in collaboration with photographer Nikola Predovic.

OKO in collaboration with photographer Nikola Predovic.

You create such detailed work that, in the end, is often painted over. Is that ever hard for you?

Sometimes it’s weird or makes me sad, but it’s not that I’m sad about “my drawing” being painted. It’s more about the energy that I put there to keep something positive or safe. Guardian energy and protection symbolism is important to me. But the only thing I can do is just paint and paint, and never stop.

Chez & OKO

Chez & OKO

Is there any location or space where you’d really love to do a drawing? A dream project of some sort?

I would like to paint large drawings — “guardians” — in big cities, because there so many people in those concrete jungles who are lost. You just see that when you look them in the eyes: they are not well connected with themselves, and it’s easy to spot that. I would like to paint them some big guardians, so they feel safe in a way — or at least safer. And don’t know why, but for last few months I can’t stop thinking that I want to paint an airplane, so some big creature can fly over us: a guardian of the sky.

And I just have to ask: why the pseudonym OKO?

OKO means “eye” in Croatian, and it is, in a certain way, an homage to someone who was very significant to me.

Probably, without even thinking, the eye is always around me. You know how they say you can see the soul through the eyes of the creature. It’s quite true that you can see a lot, so OKO is that inner eye that guides you through life without outside judgment and prejudice — to try to think pure.

Rabbit on the Moon. Boomarstick festival

Rabbit on the Moon for Boomarstick Festival

Keep up with OKO and her work by visiting her blog.

Interview by Elaine Ritchel (@elaineritchel)

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