Magnus Voll Mathiassen’s first solo exhibition at Oslo’s Gallerie Grafill features commissioned and self-initiated illustrations from the past decade. We spoke to Mathiassen about his work, influences and balancing personal and commercial projects…
Based in Oslo, Mathiassen studied visual communications before co-founding agency Grandpeople in 2005. In 2009, he set up his own studio, MVM, and has since worked with a range of bands, brands and magazines, including Rihanna, Kraftwerk and Little White Lies.
He is well known for his stylised portraits of actors and musicians, but while Mathiassen’s commercial work is instantly recognisable, his personal portfolio is more diverse, spanning abstract watercolours, geometric patterns, ink drawings and landscape scenes.
For his first exhibition, on display at Gallerie Grafill until August, Mathiassen has curated self-initiated work from the past ten years and commercial pieces from the past five. The show explores the differences and similarities between the two, he says, and the struggle to achieve artistic freedom while making work that sells.
“I wanted to do the show because I have never had 100 percent satisfaction from my commercial work. Even though I do personal projects, these are often made with commercial work in mind. [But] In my spare time, I have worked with classical drawing and painting, which is miles away from my commercial work, both thematically and conceptually. I wanted to show the public this inner battle, because I believe this is something universal,” explains Mathiassen.
The struggle is something most creatives have experienced, and Mathiassen describes it as the battle between “keeping a romantic view of the profession” and “being cynical”: while he uses his spare time to experiment with different techniques and styles, his commercial illustrations are a carefully constructed aesthetic. “My commercial illustrative work, especially the portraits, is a “constructed” style that I developed five years ago. It is created with the purpose of being recognisable and have the potential to evolve over time,” he says.
Mathiassen describes this striking reductive style as “simple and colourful, with bold lines. It has something in it that feels connected to how I would decorate my surroundings, and some of my early inspirations, like with work of Jean Arp…I have a little theory about how the Nordic nature is so immense and powerful, that you need very little in your home, because the nature is a constant part of your consciousness – lack of decoration becomes a refuge from this,” he adds.
The earliest pieces in Hybrido are ink drawings dating back around a decade. The most recent is a series of large scale catwalk portraits, which Mathiassen says were constructed using “various parts or leftovers from the past five years, as well as new material created a few months ago.”
While his retrospective spans ten years of work, Mathiassen says it is difficult to pinpoint any clear sene of progression in his self-initiated pieces. “I do series with various materials and techniques, so I seldom go back and pick up a technique I’ve already done,” he adds. “The commercial work is more in a state of flux, but I’m not sure if it’s me that controls the development, or if it’s the clients over time. I think it’s a combination, but the style has become more “controlled” in a way – my intention is that each piece should be rock solid – that each element has a specific place and if re-arranged, it would crumble,” he adds.
In his spare time, Mathiassen says he enjoys art that has little or nothing to do with his commercial work, and this is where he seeks inspiration for his self-initiated projects. He believes there is no such thing as true artistic freedom – for creatives working commercially, anyway – but says that developing projects without an audience in mind is the closest he has come.
While his commercial style may be a clever construct, however, he says it is one that has been adapted to suit his tastes, and has “grown on him” over time. “I think it has more potential than ever, and I thoroughly enjoy working in this way,” he adds.
Striking the right balance between personal and client work is a difficult achievement for any creative, and Mathiassen says the ideal is a 50/50 split. “I’m not there yet, but some weeks I can just take a little vacation from paid projects and do my own thing. I try to do this seven or eight times a year,” he says.