Marko has 10 years of experience as a freelance illustrator and concept designer. He’s worked in multiple fields, including comics, video games, RPGs and films. He loves dogs, but is not so fond of cats.
Marko Djurdjevic runs on insight. He eschews life-models of any kind, his artistic method involving an attempt to directly express
a creative vision culled from exhaustive observation. “To understand an artist,” he says, “one has to see his body of work
as a whole and concentrate on the most insignificant details.”
Letting go is key: “I consider the process of creating art to be as complicated or as simple as finding a girlfriend: The more you, try the more difficult it gets.” Just let go
“When you realise that you can’t force anything in this universe, when you give up and just let go, miracles happen and your future wife might just be knocking at your door,” Marko adds. And it’s true: he has recently returned from honeymoon.
Marko grew up in a nowhere place in the middle of Germany: “My father despotic, my mother neurotic and art being a foreign language to our household.” As a youngster there were no role models to follow, only instinct: “I can’t say I had any influences besides the will to create from early on.”
The hardest lesson to learn was the one which life most often served up: “Heroes are a myth.” They only exist to keep you from becoming one yourself. “Once you realise this fundamental truth you automatically fall into the role of a hero, to make up for the lack of them.” This realisation is evident in Marko’s work, in the frequently pained expressions of his heroically posed characters.
Even so, a boy needs to dream, and idols form a focal point, “It took me my entire teenagerhood to discover that I don’t need an idol above me to become one,” says Marko. Once you’ve overcome this human insecurity, “You’re free to be whoever you want. That’s when you truly grow into the individual that you are: A man or a woman who will not be forgotten.” Growing exponentially
At first sight it seems that applying these insights to art is not going to be easy, but Marko, being self-taught, disagrees. “Most of the time the approach develops as you put more time into drawing and painting. It’s just a routine.” It’s just about following your creative nose, letting your instinct lead you. “If you’re ambitious enough to put the hours in to your work it really doesn’t matter if you are self-taught or go to art school.” The crucial thing though is to realise the importance of always taking one step at a time. “If you want to learn what the anatomy of a head looks like it is obsolete to draw paper cups from life.”
Art is a subtle thing, and as such you can’t swallow the whole thing in one go and expect to appreciate its full flavour. “You learn many mini-lessons and in the end combine them into one big lesson. If you get your basics right, your art starts growing exponentially.”
Birth of a label
Marko met Jason Manley, Andrew Jones and Coro in early 2004. The founders of ConceptArt.org were in Amsterdam for their first workshop and invited Marko to come along and pass on some knowledge. “We instantly befriended” Marko recalls. “I drank them under the table that first night and the idea for my label SixMoreVodka was born.” The lads in turn introduced Marko to the concept of their company, Massive Black.
“They asked me to join them and I agreed in a heartbeat.” Initially this meant working remotely as a freelancer, but as soon as the Massive Black studio opened in San Francisco Marko was asked to go full-time at HQ. This sounds like the archetypal ideal working experience, and Marko’s take doesn’t dispel this idea.
For openers, “Every experience we make is meaningless.” It has no real value, “Unless it’s shared with others.” If those others happen to be 10 of the most talented concept artists around, the ramifications are potentially huge: “The impact we had on each other will only be seen in the years to come but I can say that enjoyed every day of the past two years I spent with them.” The ‘Massive Black effect’ may one day appear in textbooks.
More than just art
“It can often be forgotten,” Marko cautions, “that we as artists are more then just the art we produce.” Artists are people, with our individual stories, lives, tastes and dislikes. “Art is just a small part of us.” Without this, the artist is nothing. “The guys at Massive Black were all of the above and more, real people, with an enormous amount of life experience to back up their art.”
Part of that make up is cultural, part individual, and part is random. Marko hails from Serbia, a part of the world not unfamiliar with conflict, and he feels his roots very strongly: “I got the worst and the best out of my heritage I guess. Serbs are a melodramatic and pathetic people who revel in their own martyrdom.” At the same time though, “They are unbelievably hospitable, loving and caring.”
It’s a rich heritage, one which sits on a fault line in European culture. “I think a Serbian proverb describes their mindset the best” says Marko. “Life is a pot full of shit with a glaze of honey on top. Once you lick all the honey away, you have to eat shit for the rest of your life.” Too big a sacrifice
Distance gives perspective and from San Fran it might be easy to diagnose the Balkan question, but Marko has left the new world and returned to the old. “I had absolutely forgotten how great Europe is in comparison to the US,” he replies blithely. “Sure, career-wise America has a lot to
offer for an artist that wants to have his breakthrough in the entertainment industry, but you have to make a lot of sacrifices for that.”
And for Marko, the sacrifices are too many: “Start with something as simple as food, it’s tasteless and unhealthy. Take entertainment, it’s cheap and pointless. Take education, it’s medieval and uninformed – based on fear of God, pseudo-democratic diatribe and TV brainwash.” Europe has its problems but these have become like the lines on a characterful face.
“If you jump on a train in Europe and ride for a 1,000 kilometres, you can pass dozens of different countries, cultures, languages – inhale a multicultural world,” Marko enthuses. Cities like Berlin, London and Paris are cornerstones of art and culture, they cast a long shadow across history. This gives an individual his context and something to kick against. Hypnosis and dreams
This question of context is important to Marko. The idea of forcing your work to have meaning is crazy, he argues, “Art, next to meditation, hypnosis and dreams, is the only way to tap into the unconscious,” he says. “What rests within us comes to us in moments of artistic expression, not the other way around.”
The artist dreams for the rest of us. “If we search,” says Marko, “We find nothing.” That would be like trying to interpret a dream based on its most obvious symbols when in fact, “It’s the most insignificant detail that matters in a dream.”
The same is true with art: “I can try to sit down and ponder over the artistic value of my next piece and find nothing but a desert of empty platitudes, or I can just let go and have the meaningful things crawl out of me, plant them into details that on a single glance don’t matter much, but have the most powerful of meanings when seen as a big picture – in this case the body of work an artist leaves behind.” In this way, an image is free to accept the interpretations of its viewers. Hard to hug
“Most of my characters have some sort of spikes on them,” Marko observes. “This makes it hard for others to hug them.” Is this a suggestion of some subconscious defence mechanism, to never let people get too close? “Most of my male characters are androgynous to a certain extent, and even more so, a majority wears skirts,” he adds, speculating that this could be an indicator of his empathetic female side, or a rejection of men as a whole. Who knows?
What it really boils down to for Marko is this: “I’m consciously avoiding the expression of anything in my work. Instead I’m enabling my mind/soul/heart/psyche to speak as freely as it will.” If you try to imbue your work with some sense of purpose you’re risking the ultimate: “Kitsch.”
For Marko, in the end: “Art is a reflection of who we are, who we were and who we might be someday.” Pretending to be something you’re not might convince others but it’s not going to work so well on yourself. “I consider it to be our birthright to create,” concludes Marko. “That’s what separates us from monkeys – we leave traces. To be afraid of doing so is to me like cutting away the privilege of what defines us as a species, as mankind.”