When Norwegian illustrator Magnus Voll Mathiassen (a.k.a. Studio MVM) sits down to start a composition, he looks at his subject and mentally deconstructs it as if he were taking apart a puzzle. Then he puts all the pieces back together again, making a choppy collage with a surprising color palette.
“I work with extreme contrasts to see the quality of each element in the illustration,” he explains.
Mathiassen is an independent graphic designer and illustrator, and he’s been running his own practice since 2009. He also co-founded studio Grandpeople in 2005, an agency that works with the likes of Nike and Converse as well as for a number of Norwegian fashion titles. You could liken Mathiassen’s illustrative work to a looser, dreamier version of Craig & Karl or a more fragmented Sara Andreasson—he too uses bold colors to accentuate the lines and shadows of a face.
“I love abstract work, says Mathiassen. “But abstract work seldom attracts clients… I originally experimented to see whether it was possible to work with principles of abstract, non-figurative work where the end result is figurative.” The resulting patchworks that emerged from this experiment are an intriguing blend of flatness and apparent three-dimensionality.
When the illustrator was first trying to turn abstract forms into recognizable facial features, he would often squint his eyes to determine the main shapes that make up a subject (see: the colorful fragments that contort across the page of his latest cover for Greenpeace Magazin). Other editorial illustrations are more choppy and collaged, like his portraits for the New York Times, Vitra, and GQ Germany.
Mathiassen’s most recent cover designs for Norwegian publishers Gyldendal drew from his interest in the abstract. Every year, the company publishes four classic pieces of literature around a theme; the 2016 titles examine the idea of metropolis. To create cohesion amongst the very different novels, Mathiassen opted for a minimal design, but a “human touch” felt vital in order to convey the individualism of the author’s words.
“To do this I designed the whole thing a bit ‘wrong’ and off-center,” he says. “I used a modified Helvetica; the kerning will give typography nerds pink eye…” Like his illustrations, Mathiassen takes what’s already there—the typeface—and re-arranges it in a subtle, new way. While the design is less colorful or visually complex than his other work, Mathiassen’s talent at turning abstract shapes into icons remains strong.