Lunar is one of the first, most recognisable and beloved graffiti artists in Croatia. Last year, he compiled 30 years of work in a book, and in this interview, we tried to find out more about the man who put Croatia on the world graffiti talent map.
Last year, you published and promoted the book ‘From Zagreb with love’. Zagreb inspired so many of its artists, what impact did our city have on your early beginnings?
The Zagreb of my childhood was a pretty decent city to live in. I believe that is the reason I love 1980’s music so much. Subconsciously, I want to escape to the past where I felt careless. I still find Zagreb one of the safest cities I have seen, I’m not sure how I would function someplace else.
What made you embrace and stay in the medium?
I embraced the medium at a young age as I figured you could create bigger pictures than the ones in your sketchbook. The idea occupied me, so I started practising. Unlike most, I did not stop when I entered the ‘serious’ age. I believe if you consider yourself too serious you will lose so much of your life. A spray can is still the medium I prefer for most walls, but I still find a pencil my primary tool of creation. I also use brushes, rollers, markers, crayons, software as well as anything else that leaves a mark. Sometimes I use ink from Cuttlefish or a droplet of red wine after a dinner to create an image on a white napkin, to give an example.
Not many people know, but you used to work as a graphic designer. Are you still in the field?
It was the closest ‘serious’ job at the time to what I wanted to do. At one moment, I did not want to depend on clients I had back then, I wanted to have a monthly salary so I could organise my life better. And sure, spending nearly ten years in the field helped a lot. I became freer to draw what I wanted, see the places I wanted and paint there too.
How much of your time is divided between these three areas of your work: street art, canvases and illustrations?
It depends on periods. During the recent quarantine, like most people, I stayed at home. You could easily go out and paint some spots, but I did not want to give the bad example and also it felt really good to stay at home for a while. My life is usually very intense; I am often working outside, travelling and being socially active. I started to feel the tempo was a bit too fast. A part of me is still a 1980’s nerd who enjoys staying home on his own, sinking into an interesting book, organising stuff, planning and sketching. For the time of isolation, my family and I managed to save some of my old canvases from our old earthquake-damaged home. I was happy that we all remained alive and also for the canvases, I brought them home and started to repaint some unfinished ones. I couldn’t really tell you how much time I spend on each area. I often work parallel: I take the canvases out on the balcony, spray the first layer of paint, get back for some hours in front of the computer, then come back to canvases, then I need to be some other place to paint, then come back home and continue what I have started.
You had many collaborations all around the world, and it seems that you are always in communication with someone about new ventures. You are incredibly active and have numerous projects and exhibitions behind you. What are your current projects?
I was, but the year 2020 became an unexpected reality check: All of a sudden, we all understood we could live without a swift tempo. Every project abroad was cancelled or, in the best-case scenario, postponed to autumn. By the end of last year, I developed ‘tennis elbow’ while painting like three walls a day in London, preparing to open the exhibition following the promotion of ‘From Zagreb with Love’. It was another sign to slow down a bit. It was not the first time I’d ended up in therapy for being hyperactive. At the moment I am preparing two shipments for London, that means original artworks, prints as well as some of my merchandise I have been working on recently. I have several inquiries for interior walls here in Zagreb. Besides that, I believe soon we are starting to work on the next book, the one following the rising up of our crew, the YCP. There are many walls we painted together, and there was not enough space in more than 300 pages of ‘From Zagreb with Love’ and it would be a pity if we don’t collect some nice memories and pictures.
Do you prefer to work alone or in a partnership?
If someone has a better idea, I am absolutely down to adjust my creation. If I came up with something which I find better and I work with more people, we would go that way, or I would simply do what I planned to do, never mind what the rest thinks. I enjoy painting in a company, I am far from being a loner, but I am also fed up with trying to wrap something up with people who are too strict, not willing or unable for some other reason to collaborate. I believe it is a nice experience to work side by side, but it is also fair to follow what you believe to be right. Working together with open, skilled people is a fantastic experience. You can mutually enrich your work.
What’s the difference in your preparation and process between personal and commissioned work? And, is there a difference between working on projects locally and working internationally?
It is always the same. The only difference is that sometimes I prepare more precise sketches for clients. If it is for my own sake, I put up some notes and doodles and improvise the rest on the surface. There’s not much difference in working here or internationally. If you have a hospitable host or a client, it is all good.
Can you share the best examples of local governments embracing street art? Or is it mostly the private initiatives that spin the wheel?
Sometimes, the local organisation gets support from the city, but there are no initiatives from the government structures. I am mostly working with private people and on my own. Of course, when the results are good, everyone is embracing it and is so positive about it. It is simply the way it is. The ambition of a true artist never lies in hits but in willingness to paint or construct his ideas, his interpretation of the world that surrounds him. If it ends up with people buying his art, very cool, but far from money as the initial fuel. I don’t want to sound like some hopeless romantic, but people fall for the package, not for the content, in most cases. I was blessed to have met some who do not fit that profile.
Positive brewery in process | Photo by Ivo Kosanović
Sweet 16 by Lunar | Photo by Ivo Kosanović
Your work evolved through the years, the lines, shapes and colours are much softer, but no matter how old your work is, it is undoubtedly yours. What is the story behind having a cat as the main protagonist?
After years of painting mostly letters, I was fed up with it and wanted to involve more characters. My first set-up of characters was presented at the beginning of the 2000s when I collected 40 works from small black and white doodles. I framed them and placed them on the red surface. I named the piece ‘Beastz’n’bugz’ and from then on they travelled the world on walls, canvases, shirts or products. Working for the annual Zagreb project, ‘Cest is the d’best’ I started with the wooden cut-out dog series. I liked them, and they were present on some walls I painted from like 2002-2004, but then I embraced the Catso, and I got inspired by the huge mainecoon cat at home for quite some years.
During the 2000’s I worked a lot with Angel, an artist from Belgrade who was known for fantastic drawing skills. In 2005 I also met Flying Fortress and in 2006, Chaz of The London Police. All three had an impact on my focus on characters, also not to forget Morka from Rijeka and Zets from Zagreb but their style was more complex. I preferred the simplicity which manages to convey a message very clear and direct. Talking about the style in general, I embraced two things from the graffiti that I love, the straight line, which shows your ability and the fog or the dust, which shows the nature of the medium. I use both in almost any of my pieces nowadays.
I also started to deconstruct the letters at some point, and I almost always use the same elements to construct the works. Those elements were all part of classical graffiti backgrounds: The bubbles, arrows, sashes, clouds, caps or even simplified swinging buildings. Sometimes I create the entire work just by those, and instead of being the background, they become the main ingredients. Adding the character is also about branding the work: the characters bring much more emotion to the surface than letters if they stand alone. I like nice things. I love a good time and good communication, so I naturally aimed for my pieces to be that way.
‘From Zagreb with Love’
You are running a weekly radio show at Yammath FM called Lunarov bunar with the music of your own choice, music that somehow defined your life. It is very eclectic, surprisingly rich and most importantly – well received. How was this collaboration started, and have you ever thought it would become a regular show?
Alen Balen was the man with the masterplan for another urban radio in Zagreb, after Radio 101 that we all used to listen to and gather around back in the 1990s. He thought I had the voice and eloquence accompanied by some knowledge of urban music and asked me whether I would like to run the show on his radio. Alen was just starting to bring together a team of other people to do the same and who were not necessarily coming from the musical background. We talked about it once a year for three years. The third time we sat down, I told him: “ok, let’s do it, or I know what we will talk about next year again”. Soon after that, I recorded my first pilot and came up with two concepts; One that I chose to run with is the music which followed and inspired me through the years. The second one I’ll keep for the future. I saw the show as a new wonderful toy, and I am thankful to Alen and the Yammat crew that they recognised the potential.
Since 2006, you have been a part of the Hope Box project, which helps young people all over the world and inspires them to act through art. What is the takeaway for you from your work with children, and what triggered that initiative?
I met Rienke Enghardt (Dutch visual artist and the founder of the Hope Box, op.a.) back in 2005 or 2006. She already knew several friends of mine from Belgrade and Mostar and was a hyperactive maniac running around the world. I loved her ideas of helping the less lucky children with art. I learned very much from taking part in her missions. Every time we went somewhere, we had to expect the unexpected, remain calm and find a solution. The alternative – to get back home with nothing done – was never an option. Also, travelling made me understand myself and others better and sort out the priorities.