When reality can be overwhelming sometimes, the works of the Vienna-based illustrator and artist Lony Mathis serve as a portal into a pastel-coloured land of milk and honey, where puppies, as a symbol of friendship and loyalty, comfort us while we eat heart-shaped pizzas and play Snake on our Nokia 3310. It's all about love and positivity here, focusing on what unites us rather than what sets us apart. The vibrant works of the artist are an explosion of shared memories for 90s kids and have one clear goal: to make us feel good and safe. In conversation with Mathis, we talk about her own childhood memories, why she prefers the tablet over pen and paper and what she would draw if she had to draw the same thing for the rest of her life.
How did you first get into drawing? Can you give us some insight into your development as an artist and illustrator?
Even as a child, I had my own painting corner at home. I have always preferred to paint than to play with toys. I was fascinated by the illustrations in children's books and wanted to be able to draw just as well. In kindergarten, the kids were crazy about my drawings and gave me commissions back then. They all wanted a drawing with a certain motif from me and of course, I did that with great pleasure. It was already clear to me as a child that I would either become a veterinarian or an artist. At 15, I changed schools and went to a school with an artistic focus. After graduating from school I then went to Hamburg to study illustration. It has always been my dream to turn my art into my career and to have a job that makes me happy.
GameBoys, lava lamps, and tribal tattoos – your work is filled with references that evoke that 90s and 2000s nostalgia. What's your relationship to these objects?
I was born and grew up in the 90s and that time still shapes me today. These things were simply sacred to me until today. I am generally so nostalgic when it comes to my youth and the objects of my youth. Somehow I miss that time very much. My first lava lamp, my first flip phone and my first inflatable couch, the first kiss. Everything was so exciting.
I think the reason why I use these objects is that they comfort me and they reflect the essence of my youth, that time when you don’t think so much about the darker side of life. I miss that time, I can’t bring back my youth but at least the objects of my youth.
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"Baby" 2020 - © Lony Mathis
How do you perceive the comeback of the 90s aesthetics?
There were a lot of trends which had a revival, but I was asking myself the same. Why are the 90s so popular now when it comes to music, art and fashion? Maybe the 90s and 2000s are so popular because life was more analogue than digital. Many people didn't have the Internet yet or were hardly on the Internet because it cost so much and there were no social media, people had to get in touch with each other in real life and I think people remember that fondly.
I am also seeing a lot of young, alpha generation people wearing a dope 90s style, even though they had nothing to do with this era, but maybe they love it because they already grew up with smartphones and social media. Not everything was better back in the day but maybe a bit more carefree and a lot of new things were invented at this time... everything was somehow more colourful and vibrant. The world was not as fast-moving as the world today. Today, the smartphone has become the most important companion, in the past, it was a Tamagotchi. The only question is which is better. My first Nokia phone I have kept until today and the battery lasts for years (laughs).
Your illustrations are a burst of positivity and often show comforting situations. What is the message you want to convey with your work?
Yes, that's right, my paintings convey a positive mood. The world needs more positivity, a good mood and time out from the grey everyday life, this is exactly what I want to evoke in the viewer. My art should give the viewer a feeling of security and wrap the inner child in each of us in a pink fluffy blanket. But I also heard from a few people that looking at my paintings evokes an uneasy feeling in them, which I also found very interesting.
You have worked for publications and brands that target people of different age groups. What is it that connects your different audiences?
The beauty of my illustration is that they appeal to different age groups. It doesn’t matter if you are young or old, everyone can find access to my pictures because, as already mentioned above, they simply radiate something positive and everyone likes positivity.
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"I love crystals"2022 - © Lony Mathis
The cute aesthetic of your illustrations is reminiscent of the kawaii style popular in Japan and other Asian countries. Is that something that inspires you? What has influenced your illustration style?
My pictures have definitely something kawaii about them. But I have never been particularly interested or fascinated by kawaii. What has interested me a lot in the past are manga. I used to read manga and what fascinated me the most were the eyes of the characters.
There is so much going on in their eyes, it is amazing. I always wanted to adapt this painting style. During my studies, I experimented a lot with different painting styles. One day I found a book in the library of my university. It was a book about airbrush advertising illustrations from the 70s and 80s. I was blown away, I wanted my paintings to have the exact same aesthetic.
Since I mainly work on digital, I created different airbrushes and experimented with them and at some point, I came up with what I would now call my painting style. The inspiration for my characters comes from childhood memories of my cute toys and cute TV shows I watched as a kid. For example, The Care Bears or Diddl mouse. I always loved cute stuff.
What can you tell us about your process? How do you approach a new personal project?
For my personal projects, I already have a finished picture in my head before I start. The ideas come from things or situations that have inspired me in the past or now. I just dive into my own world and let the pen do the rest until a picture emerges in which I feel comfortable.
You've spoken about drawing exclusively digitally but what made you decide to put the pencil aside and pick up the tablet?
During my studies, I had a workshop about digital drawing and painting. At first, I thought it sucked because I was not good at it. But after a while, I became better and better and I bought myself a graphic tablet. And from that moment on I was just painting digitally. What I like most is that I don't need any painting materials and therefore don't waste any resources and can work from anywhere in the world, and I also don’t need a big studio. Just my desk, computer and tablet.
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"Happy House"2020 - © Lony Mathis
Have you ever thought about bringing your characters to life through animation or a medium other than drawing?
Yes, of course, that would be so amazing. Would love to make this one day. Many of my friends are animators, I admire their talent and perseverance. Very few know how much work it is to create good animations. Just one minute is several weeks of work. I took a few animation courses during my studies, which was really exciting, but unfortunately, I just don’t have the patience for it.
You have collaborated with brands like Bimba y Lola or Pull & Bear. Are there any dream clients, you'd like to work with one day?
My big dream has always been to design toys, or make my characters into real sustainable toys. My biggest dream would be to work with Sega Toys in Japan one day. This is the biggest toy producer in Japan.
If you had to draw only one motif or character for the rest of your career. Which one would you choose and why?
Of course, my puppies, because they make me and everyone happy. Everybody loves puppies. Puppies forever.
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"Heaven" 2022 - © Lony Mathis
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"Playground" 2022 - © Lony Mathis
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"Fever Dreams" 2020 - © Lony Mathis
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"Cherry Garden" 2022 - © Lony Mathis
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"Big paw universe" 2022 - © Lony Mathis