The world of Golden Cosmos’ illustrations is filled with plants, sunshine, sand, and the smell of fresh coffee; rendered in vibrant spot colors, the exuberant duo captures the simple, pleasurable details of daily life. But then there are also elements of the extraordinary in their images—spaceships, the Brothers Grimm, buttoned-up detectives, and devils—adventurous and occasionally sinister narratives like something from a German folk story made modern.
Their drawings walk the line between a daydream and the everyday. Distinctly European and quite at home with the other colorful, flattened perspectives showcased by Nobrow Press, Golden Cosmos’ work will be familiar to readers of the New York Times, Bloomberg Businessweek, and Zeit Magazin. They have such a specific aesthetic, so it’s fascinating to know that their drawings emerge from two minds and four hands instead of the single pen of one illustrator.
I meet Golden Cosmos at their studio inside a former East German primary school in Berlin; both are bespectacled (above, Daniel Dolz is in stripes and Doris Freigofas in dazzling electric blue) and they’ve just had their first child together with a second on the way. There’s a dumbwaiter in the downstairs kitchen and a multi-colored pattern of circles adorns a staircase with great windows looking out at former DDR estates—some might say it looks like an early Wes Anderson film, and this is precisely the kind of place that Anderson would be inspired by.
Dolz and Freigofas work inside the school’s former washing room and the space, like their illustrations, is filled with small delights. Freigofas immediately brings over a tray of strong espresso and jam-filled cookies that she’s baked, and their dog’s basket is nestled cozily next to the radiators. Graphic designers, graffiti artists, and photographers work in the rest of the school’s geometric rooms.
Freigofas works by a long, colorful bookshelf, and she’s pinned up pictures and mementoes all around her—there are abstract illustrations, a poster by Soviet graphic artist Vladimir Lebedev, wonky sculptures, photobooth pictures, and a copy of Otto Dix’s The Match Seller. “I love the perspective,” she explains, and suddenly I see how the elongated body shapes of Golden Cosmos figures could have derived from the more cartoonish elements of German, 1920s New Objectivity. Dolz sits up on a quiet, wooden platform on the other side of the room—it’s almost like a stage—with their dog Mimi. “We’re usually here from 10 a.m. to midnight,” says Freigofas. “Daniel will drive here with the dog and I’ll cycle, or the other way around.”
They’ve worked together intensely ever since they met during their art foundation year in their hometown of Dresden, and their styles have folded into one another so seamlessly that it’s impossible to tell whether an illustration was drawn by Freigofas, Dolz, or a combination of both. I wonder whether there’s something about the jumbled color of Freigofas’ desk and the clean organization of Dolz’s that comes together in their work; their aesthetic is considered and fresh, but also messy and detailed like a collage. “I’ll work on sketches and then Doris will look at them and make changes, and the other way around,” says Dolz. “But sometimes I’ll do one illustration on my own, or Doris will. We’ve always had the same style.”
Their style has definitely developed in tandem. After moving to Berlin to study graphic design, they begun printing work together with graphic designer Sven Neitzel under the name Nepomuk, producing small illustrated books that they hand-bound with cardboard. Freigofas went to the prestigious Weissensee University, studying under artist Nanne Meyer. “When you look at the portfolios of people at art school, you can so often tell who their professor was, but Meyer taught us about how to be critical and encouraged our own styles,” she recalls. Dolz later went on to study under Meyer as well, and he agrees. Although his focus was typography, with Meyer as a tutor he combined his interest in illustration with type design, producing work that married the two in a beautifully balanced way. His final project imagined typography for different football players (below) in a book he printed with Freigofas under the name “Golden Cosmos.”
When I ask about the name, the pair both point emphatically to the namesake, a book on their shelf about plants and animals—it’s the kind of meticulously illustrated dictionary you could imagine in the library of the former primary school. “We didn’t know whether we were going to be a press, a label, or an illustration studio at that point,” says Freigofas. “We just knew that we needed a name.”
Under the umbrella of “Golden Cosmos,” Freigofas illustrated a much lauded book, an update of a Brother’s Grimm fairy tale rendered in bright blue and blood red. Studying graphic design was vital to the project. “So many great illustrated books are just really badly laid out,” says Freigofas. “It was an advantage for us that we came from a design background because when we make books, we think a lot about the layout and design and how it all comes together.”
Dolz went on to intern with the esteemed art directors at Zeit Magazin, where he continued to think about the relationship between illustration and text. “It was at this point that we realized we could produce our own books and do editorial illustration,” he explains. Meanwhile, Freigofas was working at the Utopian design playground HORT studio. She points to a rhino and a raven mask hung above her desk. They’re heavy, wooden, and painted in swirls; it’s a project Golden Cosmos contributed to a HORT exhibition. Freigofas pulls the raven mask down and passes it to Dolz, who then wears it casually for the next hour or so—what’s been an ordinary studio interview begins to teeter on the surreal.
Given their history producing small illustrated books at night after working on projects for Zeit Magazin during the day, it’s no surprise that newspapers regularly approach Golden Cosmos for large-scale editorial jobs; they have an innate understanding of how a colorful composition will work alongside text and masthead. Their concertina book about aviation for Nobrow Press also pays unique attention to how details unravel on a printed page.
If their illustrations combine daydreams with the everyday, then Golden Cosmos’ studio space is no different. The cookies, mint tea leaves, and practical backpacks on their desk belong to the realm of day-to-day pleasures, but like the world they create with pen and ink, there’s also adventurous, otherworldly surprises hidden behind the sturdy doors of their workspace.
An inconspicuous hut outside is actually a planetarium, there’s a camouflage outdoor shower for when it gets too hot in the summer, and they’ve begun digging out the sand from an old sandpit in the hopes of making it into a square swimming pool. Downstairs, there’s a rainbow-colored screen-printing room, a cobbled together stage, and a makeshift palm Christmas tree for their annual nativity show (last year Freigofas played Joseph, and Dolz played Mary). The magic and whimsy of their images seems to spill out into their immediate surroundings. Spending a day in their studio reveals a lot about their unique togetherness; their work is charming and effervescent because Golden Cosmos are both strangely out of this world and strangely very much of it, too.