Cynical Romance

With his major new exhibition of work now open in Norway, we interview Magnus Voll Mathiassen (AKA The MVM) about the often-tricky overlap between commercial and personal work.

Any illustrator will be familiar with the very intimate, and sometimes rocky relationship between your personal and commissioned work. While one innevitably feeds the other, creating a feedback loop of influences, it can be a cycle that you itch to break free from. Magnus Voll Mathiassen is as well known for his self-initiated projects as the commissioned work he does for high profile clients (Skype, Sony, Nike) and in this retrospective exhibition at Grafill in Oslo he attempts to dissect the progress of the relationship between the two over his career. We ask him what he's learnt from the process...

What did putting together this show teach you about your work and the balance between personal and commercial work over the years? 

I wanted to see if there are any similarities between the two ways of working — and putting the personal work and the commercial work next to each other will hopefully do that. But my past experience is that the ‘autonomous’ work functions on a more meditative level. And, because of that, working commercially, I may have a more ‘objective’ perspective on it and it is easier to make decisions spontaneously. That's my experience at least. Hopefully these two entities some day will blend.

You work with a range of materials — is there one way of working that you enjoy most or gets the best results? 

I have visited a lot of materials, and right now it is the most basic of them all — pencil and paper. Bamboo paper to be exact. It's time consuming, but the result is always satisfying and unexpected.

You have talked about the struggle between maintaining artistic freedom and being cynical — could you elaborate? 

Well, it is about how anyone who illustrates for clients might feel at some point. Clients usually expect to get something similar to what you have done in the past, they rely on your portfolio. For some this works just fine, they're in their zone. For me, I usually get bored and have the need to experiment. But to some extent, the style that has become my signature, especially the portrait work, is something that is somehow ‘constructed’. It is me being cynical. I created a visual language that may not be ‘me’ 100 percent. But over time I have fallen more and more in love with working this way. I calculated that it was something that could grow on me, and that it included references that felt natural to me. So, over time, it HAS given me both artistic freedom and, at the same time, worked commercially. Clients give me more and more freedom within this style.

Which of the 100 pieces of work in the exhibition best represents MVM?

I have to say the work I did for L'Officiel Hommes Italia. Portraits of the model Tony Bryan. The timeline was only one weekend, and they gave me just a few directions, and they felt confident  that I could work out something good within the short timeframe and a more or less open brief. The work made me more hungry to further explore this visual language.

Apart from taking a break, what's next after this show?

Oh, straight back to normal work days. I didn't have time to take a break. But it helped sleeping for two days. After finalising some projects that are in the loop I'll maybe do some carpentry work on my parents’ cabin this summer. And the annual week of planning the upcoming work for the next year. And maybe a new show…