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MODERN DAY MYTHOLOGIES

Combining surreal scenes and colour schemes, Lithuanian illustrator Zveruna talks us through worlds old and new.

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Zveruna’s work is not of the kind that passes you quietly by; it asserts itself with force, strong colours, and somewhat strange – but capturing – visuals. With bright neons and surreal dreamscapes, her work strides the line between the world of history and visions of the future.

We spoke with the illustrator to understand where these ethereal images begin – exploring how her journey began, the reach of our collective consciousness, and why mythology plays such an important role in her work.

JEZGA: Why did you choose illustration as your form for creative expression? When did this journey begin for you?

ZVERUNA: When I was a kid, I asked my mother to draw naked bodies while I was watching the process. I started to draw organically, influenced by my background. Maybe it was also inherited from the collective subconscious. Thousands of years ago people were searching for ways to transfer images from their heads into material reality. I feel in some way the real reason why I started to draw hides in the past – 40,000 years ago when humans started to draw in the caves. It is a ritual, and it is unavoidable. One of the first tools any child learns to use is a pencil, or even their finger in the sand, starting to draw.

Is illustration your day job, or do you have to do other work as well to make ends meet?

I live in a city called Šiauliai, in Lithuania, where I work at the main art centre of the city called Šiauliai Art Gallery (Šiaulių Dailės Galerija) – I’m a creative manager there and really love my job. I’m very happy it’s so connected with my other activities because it means I can learn all the time. We organise international avant-garde fashion, media and art festivals – you should come!

I’m also a curator of a small pop-up gallery in the staircase of a design boutique store called wãpsva. Young Lithuanian artists can sell their art, zines, postcards, stickers and so on there. I’m a community-focused person, that‘s why I’m interested not only in my own art but in encouraging others as well – because cultural society can not function without small communities of like-minded people.

How did you develop your colour palette, which seems quite specific? Why those colours?

I use deliberately artificial colours to reach a bright and surreal reality. I find my colour choices through understanding the atmosphere I want to transmit – what is the smell of wet asphalt, or an antique colossal head of a youth from 2nd century BC? I really like how the vibrations of all the colours can carry the weight of an artwork.

Your work seems inspired by ancient mythology and science fiction, is that correct? How did you arrive at this combination?

I’ve been inspired by ancient mythology since I was a teenager. Zveruna is my pseudonym, which means goddess of the forest and beasts. I’m sure that the old myths are always alive – the archetypes just transform and adapt to the modern world. I like Carl G. Jung’s ideas of the collective unconscious, which have been analysed through ancient fairy tales and mythology. It‘s always going to be relevant, it’s only the forms that are changing.

Through these explorations of mythologies, have you found that they're still relevant today?

Mythology is a never-ending source – myths are so important because their images and eternal values are a reflection of all the generations that have passed since civilisation began. Our culture is changing but our subconscious somehow stored all the experiences from past generations, and the best way to decode them is to analyse those archaic stories. For example, there are many stereotypes about a complicated mother-in-law and spouse relationship – those tricky situations are not a problem born from the modern age. In Lithuanian folklore, the bride always moves to her husband's family home where she has to work a lot, and her mother-in-law gives her more and more work. It‘s like a challenge for the new family member. Some contemporary psychologists explain that girls are searching for a mother in their mother-in-law, but the husband’s mother cannot leave her son or reconcile that she is not the first woman for her son anymore. Everything is connected – listen to your folk songs or fairy tales, everything is hidden there.

That’s just one example, try to imagine how many universal truths have been hidden in stories over thousands of years. Those stories were built upon over many generations – that‘s why it’s so powerful. Society was learning about relationships and how the world is built in this way. I think it was like psychotherapy as well. Now we live in a completely different world, but the archetypes are the same, that‘s why it’s so interesting. 

So, if you feel lost, try to decode the symbols in your folklore – I can't promise that you’re gonna feel better, but I’m sure that you'll understand more, and see that we live in some kind of a cycle. Sometimes we have to look at the world as anthropologists. That helps us to accept the world as it is.