On the Left: Sujean Rim, Contact Girl¸ 2011, 10 x 8 in. (25 x 20 cm), watercolor.On the Right: Mats Gustafson, from The Fashion Book Phaidon.

On the Left: Sujean Rim, Contact Girl¸ 2011, 10 x 8 in. (25 x 20 cm), watercolor.
On the Right: Mats Gustafson, from The Fashion Book Phaidon.

A Focus on Fashion: Mats Gustafson and Sujean Rim

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Mats Gustafson of Sweden forged a unique path in using watercolor for fashion illustrations, which had largely been replaced by digital photography in the 1970s. In doing so, Gustafson returned the beauty and simplicity of the media back into the fashion world through his graceful and elegant watercolor pieces. Through a minimalistic approach, Gustafson uses few colors and simple shapes to capture the moment and movement of his model and their clothing. He has illustrated for Hermes, Cartier, Tiffany & Co, Dior and more, and his illustrations have been featured in the most important fashion magazines.

Sujean Rim, an artist born and raised in New York City, was initially attracted to art through comic strips, cartoons, and her father’s ink-based calligraphy. As she got older, she focused her energy towards fashion and studied at the Parsons School of Design for Fashion Design. Finally, her love for both watercolor art and the art of fashion merged as she continued to paint with a new inspiration from fashion. Her pieces take on a joy that is reminiscent of the humor and energy she loved through childhood cartoons and comics, yet still incorporate her knowledge of fashion in her designs. Colorful, whimsical, and chic, her pieces create individual stories revolving around the joy of living life, presented through her painted characters.

The two artists, both using fashion as their muse and using watercolor as their medium, create completely different atmospheres and auras in their paintings. Gustafson’s minimalistic styles and classic lines evoke classic style and beauty. Rim, on the other hand, conjures feelings of fun and light-heartedness through her usage of bright colors and lively women.

Mats puts much more emphasis on the clothing, rather than the model. In the particular image picture above, the woman in Mats’ painting looks more like a mannequin than a living human. Without a face, as most women painted in his photos are presented, Gustafson creates a disconnection between the viewer and the woman. His removal of focus from the woman and her story redirects the concentration onto the shapes the clothing creates, the lines of the body, and the beauty in the convergence of the two. Furthermore, his painting is mysterious, as if the model in the photo is turning her shoulder on us to hide something. On the other hand, Rim’s photos give each girl a personality and a life that we can peer into. The clothes (though they are big and bright and often much larger than the women wearing them) do not take away from or overwhelm the characters but give us a snapshot of their style and imagination. In the photo above, the woman’s polka-dotted pink dress, fancy accessories, and phone give the character a life and story. I can imagine her walking down the streets of New York on her way to work in the fashion industry. I believe Rim’s painting show that personal expression through fashion and art show confidence, creativity, and love for different art forms.

In Mats photos, there is a sense of secrecy and wonder that allow us to imagine and create fantastical world ourselves, whereas Rim gives us a narrative into the life of the model and tells us about the girl rather than hiding her from us. The two painters, though different, are wonderful representations of how watercolor’s fluidity and beauty can allow an artist to present their love of fashion and the lives it touches.

—Anna Fretz


Anna Fretz, is a Burchfield Penney Art Center intern, graduating senior at Buffalo Seminary, and rising freshman at Colgate University.