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Ivan Blažetić Šumski is a Croatian-born artist living in Berlin. His artistic repertoire includes illustration, painting, installation, animation and puppet-making, through which he explores narratives of expanded awareness, love and nature. Culture Trip sat down with the artist to talk about his visionary and constantly-evolving narratives.
Ivan has worked for big-name clients like Nike and Xxio Japan, as well as collaborating with various musicians and festivals all over the world. Here we talk about what it was like creating a puppet for the musical group Crystal Fighters, his take on Berlin’s art scene, and how an unsuspecting mural job in Kreuzberg ultimately swept him up into the creative vortex of the city.
Culture Trip: Why did you move to Berlin and what do you think about the artistic scene here?
Ivan Blažetić Šumski: In the winter of 2015, I was invited to paint a mural on the ceiling of a bar in Kreuzberg. It was planned that the works were going to be finished in two weeks, but we only started with the works one month after I arrived due to technical issues. The scope of the work was far more than we predicted; I ended up painting this mural for the next three months. Meanwhile, the unique spirit of the city inspired me in many ways, so I decided to give myself a chance here.
The art scene is very diverse – you can meet a lot of interesting people here. I would say there is a ‘problem’ of quantity over quality when it comes to visual arts. The art of music is the one that really thrives here.
CT: Tell us a little bit about how you got into making art – how did you start and where did the skills come from?
IBS: Passion for exploring the evocative power of the imagination started in my childhood. Friends of my family worked in a factory full of picture books and pages of those books were soon filled with layers of drawings I made all over them. Maybe this is where it all started. I used to draw imaginary beings and animals all over those pages.
CT: Can you tell us a bit more about the visionary and psychedelic narratives in your work? What inspires the imagery we see?
IBS: Many of my works are inspired by nature and in some ways portray a wider vision of awareness. Sometimes I think of all of those little characters inhabiting my works as free spirits dancing through the universes. Every image has its own theme. The characters are introducing us to the story. They are showing us their own take on it, which is often a bit mysterious and it’s up to observers to figure out what they can or want to see there.
CT: Is there a particular message you are trying to convey with your work?
IBS: There is always a message: it’s love. Most of my works in various ways depict a utopia, they question how to empower our inner ‘light’.
CT: Who and what are some of your artistic influences, whether it’s other painters and artists or art forms/time periods/movements?
IBS: This is a very complex question as there are so many different times, movements, concerns, medias and philosophies and so on that influenced my thinking and motivation through time. As I change, so does the source of my inspiration. From the very beginning, I used to be inspired by artists like Hundertwasser and Hieronymus Bosch. But at the moment I’ve ventured more toward discovering a lot of comic books and animation movies. Problems of the human world however, continue to arrest my attention; it is often this ‘trouble’ that speaks to me the most and drives me to respond with inspiration.
CT: How much does your own country and culture influence your work?
IBS: My upbringing definitely had a profound effect on my work. As a child, I was inspired by the Croatian animation school founded in Yugoslavia at the 1950s (Zagreb Film) and Tales of Long Ago written by Ivana Brlić-Mažuranić. Ever since then, I always had a curiosity for local tales and folklore. I believe my passion for storytelling partially comes from there.
CT: You were recently commissioned to construct a ‘magical whale puppet’ for the new Crystal Fighters music video. Tell us a little bit about that process and where the magical whale came from.
IBS: I was collaborating with the Backyard Society studio and the director of the project, Wayne McCauslin, before on another video for the same musicians. A surreal environment full of fantastic vegetation, vivid colours and a cute love story was something I was happy to be part of. The whale was already part of the story but I was responsible for making it an orange/pink/violet colour spectrum, with the ability to open its mouth and move its tail.
CT: What do you love most about living in Berlin?
IBS: It’s a pocket of freedom in the centre of Europe where many come to pursue their passion and dreams (or just to dance) rather than run after money. This is what I like the most about this city.
CT: Can you tell us some of your favourite things in the city?
IBS: That’s easy: my flat. It was so hard to find a good living space as the Berlin property market is in high demand right now.
CT: Are there any projects you’re currently working on and what does the future hold for you?
IBS: At the moment I feel the need to create more space for my personal projects. Based on my childhood inspirations, there is a comic book that has been on my mind for a while now. Berlin gave me a lot of inspiration, I’d like to talk about that and to reflect on how the world is at the moment. I’m motivated to learn new things, as well as learning more about animation and film. Right now, I feel like I’m entering a long-anticipated ‘new phase of my work’ and I can’t wait to see what exciting projects and challenges will come up in the year ahead.