Daily newspaper…  Vecernji.hr
OKO, artist from Zagreb, Croatia is one of the most talented artists of Western Balkans. Zagreb citizens know herby the big murals she did on the walls of Branimir Street and the wall at theStudent Centre in Zagreb. Zagreb’s youth know her by her work on the walls of Medika -Zagreb’s alternative hangout and artists know her as the artist who won the 31st Grand Prix award of Zagreb Youth Salon, and as the artist nominated for the European urban arts award. OKO has exhibited her work throughout Europe, in Japan, Brazil and the USA. Last year her works were showcased at Victoria and Albert Museum in London and she is about to have anexhibition at the New York’s E-Flux Gallery.
“Many people are surprised to see me paint as they only know me as a street artist, but I see myself foremost as a painter and drawer. I love my dip pens and black ink and I don’t go anywhere without my tube with brushes, ” says OKO, who has turned her own body into an art canvas – tattooed with many of her own drawings as well as traditional Croatian tattoos on her arms and hands.
“Croatia has an abundance of timeless traditional art that is contemporary if placed in the right context. My tattoos are recognized as completely different even in large cities filled with tattooed people. They are recognized and appreciated for the strong ethnical energy they transmit. As I’m slowly accepting that artists have no home, these symbols on my arms and hands remind me of where I came from and give me a sense of home wherever I find myself.” explains OKO.
OKO and her brother were born in Zagreb to a father from countryside and a mother from the Adriatic coast. Their childhood was marked with summers on the Adriatic coast and weekend adventures in the countryside. They had an ideal platform to grow up on – from boat to combine. OKO was always passionate about drawing, as a child she would forhours try to trace the cartoon characters, but she never thought art could become a real job. At one point in her life she almost gave up on the art dream and seriously thought of becoming a hairdresser.
The skate culture that marked her teenage years is still ever present in her works today.
“Rollerblading, skating, biking and break dance on Zagreb’s streets were all part of my childhood and teenage years. There on Zagreb’s streets I learned to be street wise, to be calm and avoid conflict. To know the faces of the homeless, life stories of beggars and junkies widens your perspective and makes you well aware of what street life is like 24/7.”  Today OKO lives between Zagreb and London. When in Zagreb she shares her studio with graffiti artist Chez. They are compatible as they learn from each other and exchange their experiences, he his street knowledge and she her academic knowledge. In Zagreb she enjoys the upside of a small culture scene where everyone knows everyone, everything is at hand, faster and cheaper. In London everything is far away, it takes you at least an hour to get from where you’re at to where you’re going, when you place an order for whatever you know there are at least another hundred orders awaiting. But to be in such amulticultural environment, a global information crossroad is a huge advantage.
“At first London fascinated me,then it overwhelmed me and what was left of me kept on going. I learned to be patient, tolerant and kind. I got accustomed to people introducing themselves as “Hi, I’m an artist”, a phrase that kills further conversation and ends in measuring up knowledge and strength. So, when someone asks me what I do I just say,“I draw.” Those really interested I refer to my Tumblr page, which is by far the best portfolio I could have, as it enables communication with the whole world. I belong to the digital generation and new media brought a new form of publicity,” says OKO.
The alias OKO that she uses resulted from her internet life. Eight years ago she decided to sign up on Boonika - an internet portal, and she needed a username. Three clicks and OKO came to life. She’s better known under her alias than her real name, which she doesn’t like to reveal as she says her work is her identity. Also the animals in her drawings are better known than her face, which she successfully hid from public until two years ago when she became the face of Adidas.
“Contracts with sport brands are usually exclusive to sport players who are more famous than artists, so to be chosen for Adidas face is a compliment and confirmation of my work. Also, I find it ironic that I’ve become the face of a brand of sneakers I always wanted to have as a child but could not afford. Nowadays I show my face more often,but never fully disclosed, I still think my face is not so important. Marina is a human being with all her shortcomings and weaknesses and OKO is a passageway for filtering ideas and thoughts. It enables me to be fearless and shameless and to express myself. Sometimes I drive myself crazy trying to beat my own boundaries.”
During her studies at the Academyof Fine Arts in Zagreb she collaborated with a few art collectives where she learned to let others take control, but being a bit of a control freak she prefers to work on her own. Discipline is everything, there are no holidays or weekends, when she’s not drawing she’s writing, reading or researching.
“I truly believe everyone carries within them something divine. But to liberate such strength one must be honest,gentle and conquer all negativity within; then learn to live with doubts that come from the external world. I draw animal characters as protectors from those external influences that hinder our self-actualization. I doubt I’ll ever give up on my protectors, but I believe they’ll change and I’ll find new techniques and new motifs to play with. While I’m searching for new motifs I never go back to my old drawings. After the hand and brush have finished they have to go through the natural cycle of life and death – just as we all do.”