One: Mats Gustafson

Reminded – by a photo of Mats Gustafson’s studio on Steven Bonner’s blog – of the time we commissioned Mats, I searched through an old suitcase and pulled out the job. The reason I remember it so vividly was for Mats presentation of his finished piece. We had recently redesigned the Observer Magazine (John Tennant was the Art Director and Shem Law and I were his deputies. The team also included Marcel Ashby and Jim Brewster). We had used a lovely Mats’ drawing in one of our dummy feature spreads to show the editor the kind of work that we were looking to commission (I can’t remember which editor—we had four in two years if I remember rightly, and redesigned the magazine three times in that period…). Dig the pasted-down dummy copy, cow-gummed onto a printed card grid. Nice run round!

So a few months later, when Gore Vidal would not be photographed, we thought it was a perfect opportunity to use Mats. As he was passing through from Sweden to New York he said he would deliver the artwork to our offices. So one day Mats turns up and proceeds to lay about fifty illustrations on our floor, explaining that he works by getting to know his subject’s face by painting quickly, over and over again, until he feels he’s getting closer to capturing something about them that seems vital and dynamic.

I quickly took a Polaroid of the studio before we started sifting through with Mats to fine down the choice. The finished spread is here. Note that between commissioning Mats and printing the illustration another redesign (not as good) had happened.

I wish I had managed to work with Mats again—his work is still as beautiful and mercurial as ever. See it at


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