Block colors, thick lines, and graphic shapes characterize the iconic portraits of Norwegian designer and illustrator Magnus Voll Mathiassen, MVM. Illustrating pop culture icons in his classic style, MVM’s portraits are at once abstract, surreal, and entirely humanistic.


How long have you been working?

Counting roughly 11 years now. While still in art school, I created a lot of music-related work for labels and clubs. After graduating from the art academy in 2005, I co-founded the design studio Grandpeople with two friends working as art director, designer, and illustrator. I left the studio in 2009 and started working more with illustration, art projects, and art direction, so 11+ years to be un-precise.


Magnus Voll Mathiassen

What is it about portraits that you enjoy illustrating?

I’ve always been attracted to Jean Arp’s joyful and serious non-figurative work. If you look at a lot of my work, there is a lot of Arp in it. Doing portraits is the result of an experimental phase, exploring how I could do what I love the most, non-figurative work, while still continuing to work commercially. It became this figurative/non-figurative hybrid.

Are your color palettes related to the image or subject at all, or are they inspired by something else?

I use strong colors purposely to differentiate each element. This gives me a better understanding of how the elements work together in the artwork. Colors are both part of the process and the end result. I often want to tone it down, work with neutral colors, but normally it just isn’t part of the creative brief given to me.


Which one of the series is your favorite?

I really enjoyed working on the Bernini and Rodin interpretations. They’re study pieces, and the original artworks are otherworldly.

Do you ever get portrait requests from friends and family?

Not too many. I’ve only done two, I think. It’s a bit harder to work on as I know the subject personally. Because I work on an abstract level, compositions can look weird. Weird is good. But you know, not all people like weird.


Anyone special you want to draw and haven’t been asked to yet?

Anyone with interesting features, which is most people. And, models. Models usually have the opposite of interesting features, which is easy to do in a minimal way. Minimalism is hard work. I love it.

Describe your ideal project.

The most important aspect of anything I do is the constant evolution. Any project can take you on a new journey with surprising results. Often these lucky accidents happen with commercial work thanks to clients who push the work to unknown territories, clients who see the quality in exploration and in failure. To me there are no ideal projects, but there are ideal clients.