Apr 27, 2015

An Interview with Norwegian Designer Magnus Voll Mathiassen

The Scandinavian artist on pop music, inspiration, and the importance of breakfast

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Written by Gregory Maher

Graphic Designer and Illustrator Magnus Voll Mathiassen is invariably drawn back to the land, to the vital relationship between himself and the surrounding Nordic landscape. He describes his work through the symbol of a prized teak bowl, kidney-shaped, and spotted at a flea market. Nothing special, he describes, merely “a basic shape that has been given a little twist to give it character.” Behind this understated aesthetic is a man who has in the past decade co-founded a successful design firm, then started his own practice, worked with clients including Bose, Adidas, Microsoft, and MTV Nordic, garnered fame for his boldly stylized portraits, and was featured in a retrospective exhibition in Oslo in 2014. Between the pace of high-profile projects (he’s represented by agents in the US, Norway, France, Finland & The Netherlands) and his personal work, sometimes Magnus simply seeks time in the woods for meditation and exploration . . . and a good breakfast.

Magnus’ recent style reflects his impulse for exploration and “rapid evolution,” turning to such forms as ink drawing (the same bold lines remain and themselves create vitality without color), artistic studies such as The Walking Rodin, and sculpture. While the familiar essence of his portraits of hip-hop artists and celebrities, and the abstract forms and imagery of nature endures, the newest evolution is a bold distillate of sharp highlights and thick lines across concentrated hues. Take The Walking Rodin, for instance, whose cognitive illusion draws us to infer a face (or faces) along the torso . . . or waist, or elsewhere amongst the richly-outlined colors and shapes which compose the figure. Visual complexity is added, outlines pop, and perspective is given using lighter tones for shadow. Mathiassen’s recent work reveals nuance - an artistic evolution - while providing a more immediate connection for the viewer with a perception of the world that illustrates the “sheer ugliness and joy that exists side by side.”

Magnus spoke to KNSTRCT about his favorite design practices, what gets him going in the morning, and the importance of constant exploration as an artist.

K: Favorite tools to design with?

MVM: Whenever I have a project where I need to use cutting board, knife, paper, and my hands, I truly enjoy that. Everything physical. Any tool that gives me some time off from the computer is truly appreciated. The computer isn’t my favourite one, but unfortunately like for everyone else, it’s become an extra limb you can’t function without.

K: Where’s your favorite place to think or be inspired?

MVM: Definitely the woods. I spend time in the woods running or skiing all year around, and it is pure contemplation. Nature inspires and functions as meditation. It’s a bit addictive.

K: What would people be surprised to learn about you?

MVM: I have a pop music quiz team called Rocksteady Strømsø. On another note, do people get surprised these days? Thought people were pretty phased by living with internet for some time now!

K: What is on your perennial to-do list?

MVM: Breakfast. Without breakfast I am really not able to do any of my to-do list. Other than that, trying to explore. Explore anything outside my profession, trying to figure a way to expand beyond what I am doing now.

K: Can you describe your path to becoming the artist & designer you are today?

MVM: Set a goal, both creatively and economically. Don’t be shy - think big, have a strategy, follow the plan, never give up, work harder than you have ever done before, and be sure to enjoy life on the way as well. Every moment with family and friends is important, just as important as your way to whatever your goal is. Also, carve out a niche for yourself in the industry. Don’t try to blend in, do the opposite. That has been my recipe.

K: What is the most difficult part of that process?

MVM: To keep an eye on details. Details are very important to me as my work is constructed in a way that - to me at least - if something is a bit off, you see it clearly.

K: Who are some of the illustrators and designers who are really influencing and inspiring you currently?

MVM: Aesthetically and conceptually there isn’t really anyone. But regarding work ethics and the sheer love for the profession and what they do, there are plenty! Design normally doesn’t inspire me. People do.

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