Conference Mattias Adolfsson

Conferencia Mattias Adolfsson

By El Moderno Gallery and El Moderno Concept Store.

On Saturday, February 3rd, Swedish artist Mattias Adolfsson gave a lecture on the lower floor of El Moderno Concept Store, where he shared details about his beginnings in drawing, his early years as an illustrator, and the evolution of his style and creative process. During the talk, he explained the symbolism present in his signature self-portraits and shared the sources of inspiration that feed his work. He captivated us with anecdotes about his work, revealed some outstanding collaborations, and reflected in depth on his artistic development.

Conference Mattias Adolfsson


00:00 - Mattias

I read a lot of children's books, a lot of a bit scary. The Mommies, to be honest, they are really important to me, especially their comics. They are still excellent. But also a lot of French and Belgian comics, like Tintin, Spirou. And I was always very inspired by a Swedish artist called Oskar Andersson, who made his first Swedish comic: The Wild Man and His Dog. And also a lot of Brueghel, who really inspired me. I really enjoyed those kind of things, paintings and art that had lots of things happening in them. And that's probably why my art look the way it does.

And in Sweden, when I was a kid, we had no shows on, like, cartoons. The only cartoon we got was at Christmas, and we got Donald Duck, so once a year. But we got a lot of, like, from the Eastern Bloc, like this, Professor Balthazar from the former Yugoslavian Republic. So when I was to choose what to do with my life, everybody said, you can't be an illustrator. It's impossible to make a living out of it. So I kind of went with my mother's wishes and opted for a career in engineering.

At first, I worked a couple of years as a telephone operator. My father worked at the Swedish telephone company, so I worked a couple of years at the telephone in the border. And then I started to study engineering, machine engineering. But quit and went for a career in architecture, I thought. So I went two years in architecture school until I decided to master in graphic design.

But while studying both architecture and graphic design, I constantly draw on the sides, so I filled sketchbooks after sketchbook with times and buildings like this. But I didn't think it would be anything, so I just kept on drawing. And on the summers I spent, I travel around in the wets coas of Sweden and draw people’s houses and made living of that.  And then when it came to making my thesis work at the graphic design, I came on this new technique 3D modelling so I made project about three cosmonauts, Polish cosmonauts going to space.

And later on that, I got picked up by a Swedish game company. So, I effortlessly moved into a career as a game builder. So I worked in the game industry for, more or less, ten years. First small, the team was very small and we did everything together. So the first game were three people and we also made a moving game. But then I also made some music videos for both Swedish and international band, until I started working at the Swedish largest game company called Digital Illusion.

And then the kind of teams went from three or four people, to two hundred, three hundred. So I made smaller, smaller part of each game. This was the last game that we worked on. And this was a really flashy company with lots of high-tech equipment. But I got fed up on the day, so I quit on the day and started working from my garage at home. So and instead of the computer I just had these tools, e-pens and watercolors. I had started posting stuff while I was still working at the game studio, so I started getting commission work so I thought it would be possible to make some kind of living doing this.

But now I can always bring my sketchbooks wherever I am so this was in China and this was in Barcelona and I can bring my work to the beach. And I kept filling books after books with the drawing. So it's a constant process always. I'm always drawing.

And this is everything I had when I started as a freelance supporter. Not much to put your bets on, I guess. So I kind of, I take some small ideas and make it into a picture and somehow it finds its audience. So I'm pretty happy with being able to do this kind of stuff. And I always, I tend to use myself as a kind of part of some story, but the beholder has to write the story himself. So it's an ongoing process. So this is me and my customers.

Or going shopping for a new car with my wife.

Or wine tasting.

And it's also, there is the idea that I go back in time and try to explain to my to the younger me, the advantage of a permanent ink. Sometimes it's like if I had thought out the idea and it wouldn't become an image, but I'd just do it. And then I think maybe it's off funny. I'm not sure.

And this is me and my wife trying out the new swimsuit fashion. Or making the best use of discarded masks.

So I always bring the sketchbook and I do, often I don't really have a plan, I just start. So I started this drawing up here and I thought I would make a new kind of city building. But then in the end I got tired and it turned out to be a computer. And then I just added my two daughters watching TV in the end.

And it's also, I really enjoy spending a lot of time with an image because you don't really have to come up with a new idea. So it takes a long time to finish. This is me doing computer games. But I use a lot of my daily, inspiration from my daily life. So I went to a restaurant in Sweden and everyone was like tattooed, except me. So, that's what I came up. And often I kind of store the idea for later on. I just sit at the bar and drink, and then I go home and a couple of days later I do the actual image.

So, it's not really from reality, but more like an enhanced version of it. So there's a lot of building from cafes and pubs, so going to the drink and some coffee. And sometimes, just as a stupid, random idea, I just make, start doing a little electronics. I don't really know that much about it, but I'm kind of fascinated by the forms.

I just start with one, and then I kind of have to complete the full set. So a stupid idea turned into some kind of drawing. Sometimes my past as a game designer, it kind of sleeps through. I'm not sure you can see, but this is like a labyrinth in some kind of Dungeons and Dragons game. So you can actually try to find your way out. There is actually no way out, so... just as in life.

There's also a lot of small characters, and it's like I also forget that I've done it, so I can't really... For me, it's like just as surprising as anyone else looking at it, because I can't remember doing it. But sometimes I do a drawing like this, and the internet helps me, what it is. So, this was typically a thing with the guitars with lots of strings, that I didn't know. And there is a specific tone that goes with it.

And it's also a story from, in Sweden we have to change the tires when it's winter. They got this idea that you also have to change the motor. This is a summer motor and this is a winter motor. And also the kind of dressing you have to have when you are driving while in the time. Now I also have this inspiration and a fascination by the Baroque era, so a lot of things tend to be on the Baroque side. I really like that exaggerated feeling to stuff.

And one summer my wife dropped her mobile phone and she kind of checked a YouTube film, how to fix it. So this is kind of how the mobile phone was looking. And this is the kind of little story, how she managed to fix it herself. I didn't help, I just sat on the side and did this drawing. But I got a lot of comments that this part doesn't look like this. Everything is just pure fantasy.

And this is also one of those Corona drawings. Everything kind of... We didn't have it so tough, but it kind of went all in anyway.

So this is a process. I just start somewhere and just go for it. And a lot of time when I do this kind of stuff, I suddenly get really bored with doing this kind of, this was some kind of Russian churches. So I kind of try to fix the boredom by adding other stuff. Preferably big animals that block large part of the drawing. So in this case, I started drawing some flying dragons instead.

Yeah, that's the first one. They kind of block out the large part of the drawing so its never too late to kind of get the drawing a new meaning. And this is the finished piece.

So sometimes I get really inspired by traveling, like coming to Madrid or visiting places like in Asia. But, sometimes it's just the thought of going somewhere else. This is my kind of vision of going to Tokyo or some Asian city, but it's more what I think it looks like. And when I get there, it's more or less exactly what I thought it would be.

I got a lot of questions on the pen, so I tend to do a lot of drawings on the pen instead of answering the question. Because a lot of people think that there's something magic about the pen. It is. So...

And my daughter kept nagging me, wanting to get a tattoo. And I said, you have to wait until you're 18, then it's your decision. But she kept nagging and instead of answering I just started drawing different animals with tattoos and also giving myself a plan of the tattoos that I would get and the tattoos to be. So it's a lot of just random stuff and I have those kind of different themes that I like to return to, like music, music instruments, like combining the baroque robots and music.

And sometimes people online, they ask me, can I do something with this drawing? So I had this guy who makes 3D modelling. And as I have a history of doing 3D modelling, it's always interesting for me to see what people can come up with. So he made this version of this DJ in 3D.

Bicycles, It's also a theme that I tend to, want to come back to, especially when I go to Denmark, where they bike a lot. So this was made on the train to Copenhagen. And this I did when I was in Copenhagen.

And this is a nice looking scene from Tour de France (inaudible). And I get lots of inspiration from the trips. So this was when I was in Hong Kong,  it’s a sneaker street its part of Hong Kong where you can buy sneakers.

And this was from Venice. As the city is sinking, I thought that I could perhaps find a solution to fix it. And this is also from the Venice airport. So a lot of stuff. Singapore. I thought the skyline in Singapore was rather disappointing, so I kind of made it a little bit more impressive.

And one thing about traveling is the food. So I get really inspired by foods in different countries. So this is what I ate. I was in Japan two years ago. And this is what I ate the first week I was there. So those worked as a day diary and also memory for myself. And this is a sushi restaurant.

And this is the…in Japan you have those small lunch boxes you can buy everywhere. So that's the artist bent with nice tacked. And this also food related, the full English breakfast. I also made a French version with just a cigarette, but I haven't opened that one. But it's one of those things where you get a lot of feedback from the internet with everything that I've forgotten and everything is like, I kind of knew what they were eating, but most of the things are just pure fantasy.

So I missed a lot of stuff. But I think I got the cocaine. And the ecstasy was on there. The most important parts are there. Also, I tried to really make the best of the time, so when I sit on an airplane I always do a drawing so this is when I was traveling to Bucharest and you know those kind of security cards you get that was my version of the security, this is where you can touch the flight attendant, for example.

And I was in Madrid in 2020, just before the Corona outbreak, and made a course with Domestica. So this is how the setup more or less was. And I had big problems because I was hungry all the time, and they had mixed meals, lots of mix. But she only heard the rumbling from my stomach quiet nerve-wracking and I was so bad in front of the camera because I couldn't remember a line so it's really a mystery that the course was able to be made.

And this is me relaxing after a tough night in St. Petersburg. And when I sit outside and draw, which I do sometimes, this is the way I think I look. And people ask me, people come up and want to talk to me when I sit and draw, but in reality I look like this, and no one dares to come and look at me.

But apart from this kind of stuff, I'm very inspired by space and space travel and robots. So there's a lot of spacecrafts and stuff like that. Try to fall with some dignity. So that's my wife.

And I have some that collect from my original art, and I have a guy in Spain who used to work for Caterpillar. So every time I draw a yellow robot, he buys it. So if I'm short on cash, I can always draw a yellow robot.

I was at Dublin airport and it was delayed for four hours and everyone was, oh no, no, and I was so happy because I could finish this drawing. So, always, if you have a sketchbook and are able to draw, you can always make the best of the time.

And this was during a Zoom meeting. And we have been able to collect my drawings into books that I sell, and we are working on a new book at the moment, hopefully. So I put so much time into the drawings, so it's nice to be able to get some kind of reward for it. But I also do like stuff on paper so and you can see some of the prints from them as well.

And I did this drawing in a very large sketchbook a couple pf years ago. I did actually three very large drawing in the sketchbook. One is the airplane from the outside that looks a little bit like a fish. And I got asked by a guy who works for J.P. Morgan, a big bank company in the UK, if he could sell it, and it was in the sketchbook. Because when I did this drawing, I said, I will never do this again, because it took so long time and it was a crazy idiotic subject.

But he asked and said “I will pay for you to draw another one”, so I did a special version for him, a little bit less details. But  when I finished that I said never again, that's stupid. It's really the worst thing you can choose. But then an astronaut in, no, a guy who worked for the Canadian Space Agency contacted me and said he wanted one as well, so I did the third one.

And the Canadian space program, what they are known for is the arm that goes out of the space shuttle. I have to put it, and also a lot of Canadian references. But that's the last one.

And apart from my personal work and my... Yeah, just my personal work, I also have made commission work over the years with lots of different companies, from magazines to animation studios in both the US and France.

One of the first commission work was making a children’s book for Swedish publisher and I've done some children's books. This was for a book about Swedish animals that I find it really hard both to get the economy in it and also it's so much work over so long time so I I really don’t, really enjoy it that much. This was also from that book.

But I did quite a lot of editorial work, this was for the New York Times. For me, I got this commission in 2012. But for me, it was really important. But up to that point, when I was explaining to my parents what I was doing, it's like, well, I don't know. I draw. But when I got this from the New York Times, okay, this is for real, so I can probably make a living doing this.

They don't really pay that good, but it's nice to be able to say it. Nowadays, I mostly do commission work for the Hollywood Reporter, so I did this a couple of weeks ago.

But then I was able to sell the original for a guy who worked at this this is from a cinema in Hollywood for you know like veterans, that has been in the military, so it was nice to be able to sell it to a guy who very worked in that and they sent a nice experience. Otherwise you sell something but you never know who gets it.

This was for an article on Spotify for a Swedish magazine, the largest magazine. So there's been, a lot of the editorials have been this kind of machine, so I did it in New York Times and then people see it and they want the same. So this was for an American magazine that I can't remember anymore.

And this is Jigsaw for a German company. We have a print of that motive, this is also Jigsaw that I did for this company.

So I can always find different uses for the images. This was made first as a jigsaw, but then another company used it as a theme for a blanket. And I also sold the actual original to someone.

And this who also, this image is also part of the exhibition here, was made for a hospital in Stockholm. So I made about 20 different images and this was a really large drawing that I had to put up on my kitchen table to finish. And it was extremely difficult to finish. I actually managed to tip this glass of water over the drawing, so it was okay it was not that dirty as this but it was a crazy project and everything was enclosed in like vinyl so they can easily remove the stains the blood stains from the hospital.

And this was also a little small project that I actually did in one Moleskine book. It was about imaginary islands. So it's an island full of... this is a cheese district and a disco town. So I was totally free to do something. I enjoy those kind of commissions where I get free hands.

This was a rather complicated drawing. In the north of Sweden there is a town called Månsberg and they've been mining so long that the city is starting to collapse. So they have to move everything away from this, move the complete city. So this is a story about the city. First it was almost like a Klondike feeling because they've earned so much money and some it's the 50s, 80s, and then it's the future of the town and also the original settlers also part of it.

This is also the kind of process when I color it. I have a little color defection. I'm colorblind, partially, so coloring is always a little bit nerve-wracking for me, but I kind of learned to live with it, so it took a long time for me to start adding colors. So in the beginning, I just did things in black and white.

A lot of the things you do for animation studios never happen, so you can work on projects for three or four months and then the project is scrapped. This is one of the few things that really happened. It was for Nickelodeon. And you get contacted in the early part of the project to make like images that they can…the thing…this show will look like this in the end.

But for this show they actually used this building. It was welcome to the way. And this was a new project for Cartoon Network.

And this is the best well-paid job I have ever done. It was for the Norwegian railway. And in Norway, they are really fanatic for their Easter holiday. So they closed down the whole country for two weeks so I got this was really very very urgent you have to do it now, so I just did this sketch and they said okay but we will not be here for two weeks and then you would have to be finished.

And the concept was that the drawing is full with different travel related things that they are going to kind of push. So they gave me a list and I showed them this drawing and then I had to finish it in two weeks. So this is the process.

And then they used it on large format, And this is all the little small themes that are in the drawing. They also used the large drawing.

So I worked constantly for two weeks. And then I took the family, and we had a vacation in Barcelona for the money. So it was quite nice. One of the first thing I did as a freelancer was a rock band in America contacted me called Dance Gavin Dance.

And they wanted to use my art as record sleeves. First, they took drawings that I had made prior to ready-made drawings. So they used this as a record sleeve and also a very old drawing I did in 1995. It's also one of the first record sleeves. But then they became more and more popular and they got more and more money.

So since then they…one time each year, they contact me and I make a new record sleeve. And the fans of this band are really super fanatic. So when I'm abroad and I meet, I can always spot them 100 meter away. Their eyes are like glowing and they run forward, and they think they have a really close connection with the band and you must listen to the music and your drawings are perfect for the record. But I can't actually, I can't listen to the band, it's not my kind of music at all, but I always say yeah, yeah, yeah, they're great.

So this was this drawing was made for… I can understand it the music is really like hard, heavy metal, and like the combination of the music and this kind of silly drawing perhaps it's pretty nice. This was two records, so it was split in the middle and this was one, and then a couple of months later the rest came.

So I've been doing this stuff for ages, and when I was in Japan, they had lots of fans from this band, so she was a bit, what do you call it, needle stick, yeah...

But nowadays a one of the, perhaps, only commission I do with the in the 1996 I got contacted by a French pair who wanted to make a brand baby blankets and baby clothing so this was the first image they used so we've been doing stuff ever since and it's kind of each year the money doubles.

So it's been really good business. This was for Versailles and this is for a luxury hotel in Paris called Hotel de Crillon, and it  its like they have a little shop with my things there but, I was in Paris and I wanted to check the shop, but I felt really so out of place, because a night cast costs, I don't know, 10,000 euros.

But they been able to use, this was a drawing I did in a sketchbook, and they use it as a motive with small changes for Haneda airpot in Tokyo, and this was a Paris theme. And now they have a little shop and they're opening a new one in Paris, but they sell all over the world. So it's a luxury brand. So it's kind of just continuing.

This was, they have a sell all over both Paris and the... So I could have stayed working with computer games, but then I wouldn't have been able to sign books in London, giving talks in Taiwan, signing bags in Taiwan, doing murals at comic festivals, having workshops in Singapore, exhibitions in Iran, drawing battles in Hong Kong, or workshops in Bucharest, or exhibitions in Japan, or doing courses in Spain. So that's it.

Thank you.