Meeting Mateo

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My talented friend, Mateo, has been a thriving artist from the San Francisco Bay Area. But these days he also manages a successful painting career in Berlin where he runs his Zozoville Gallery with fellow artist, Johan Potma. He shares a charming Kreuzberg neighborhood apartment with his equally delightful wife. Here’s what he has to say about color, design, and all things fantastical:

SK: Your paintings are always a fest of unexpected color and surprise. Is there a color palette that often creeps into your work? What’s the attraction?

Mateo: Thanks! I appreciate the recognition for my color choices! To be honest I often struggle to find a color palette that feels right and which moves me. Color, after all, has a big effect on the emotional quality of a painting. Looking back on the color palettes that most often resonate with me, I think my range of colors could be described as impure; variations of grays and browns. That's not to say that I don't have reds and blues and greens. Only that they are usually muted a bit, as though they've gotten dirty and worn out with age.

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SK: Do these colors show up in your home too?

Mateo: Yeah I'd say so. We have one wall in the house which is raw concrete which has been stained throughout the years. It includes many variations of gray, and it even has a painted border from ages ago which features faded red roses, with a sage green border. It's easily my favorite wall in my flat. The muted "impure" colors can also be seen in our choice of vases and bed linens.

SK: What do you like most about your pad?

Mateo: The wall I mentioned is up high on my list. I also like the french doors which allow me to open the space up (or alternately, divide it). But to be perfectly honest I especially love the fact that our balcony affords us a lovely view. We just yesterday had a BBQ on the balcony and watched as a springtime thunderstorm passed us in the distance. Marvelous!

SK: You mentioned once that you almost passed up this gorgeous space, why did you decide to go back? Are you glad you did?

Mateo: Before finding our current flat we had been living in a place which had a more modern feel. Although it felt very clean, it was also rather predictable and boring. When we first saw our current home, it was pig sty. The previous owner had left his belongings piled up in a corner. It was rather filthy in fact. The walls (and in some cases the ceilings too) were these god-awful highly saturated colors. The door jams weren't straight, and the windows were blocked with blue plastic due to construction on the building facade. So the overall impression was a dark and dirty place. It really required some imagination to see what it truly had to offer.

The door jams are still crooked, but the place is now clean and the windows afford great views. We repainted the walls and are now very happy with our flat.

SK: What’s your favorite painting or creature right now?

Mateo: Often my newest painting is my current favorite. But of course they are all my "children", and I really shouldn't choose favorites. My most recent piece is called "Home Game", and it features houses playing soccer. I mentioned earlier that I often struggle with choosing color palettes, however in this particular painting I'm rather pleased with the outcome. The colors I used consist mainly of sage green, english red, and a parchment yellow.

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SK: How has living abroad influenced your aesthetic?

Mateo: Berlin is a city with a lot more grit and a lot less polish than what I was used to seeing in San Francisco. The scars of war have left their mark not just on the city itself but also on the aesthetic choices that people here make in their cafes, bars, and restaurants. There's a somewhat laissez faire attitude to decorating here. As if it was an afterthought. There isn't too much attention made to covering up wires or holes in the wall. That of course is gross generalization, and doesn't apply to all establishments here. Nonetheless they usually seem to embrace the occasional stains and blemishes that life creates. I too have come to appreciate how these things (this evidence of life) can make a space, or painting, feel like it is warmer and more human somehow.

SK: What are you working on now?

Mateo: I'm working on a children's book, a couple of private commissions, and I'm actively searching for a new working space near my home. It's enough to keep me quite busy. On top of that, summer is around the corner which means picnics, barbecues, and parties. I'd better get to work now if I want to have any social life when the really good weather hits!

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Links to Mateo's beautiful book and prints are available at

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