January 8, 2010

Tomokazu Matsuyama

I’ve been following Tomokazu Matsuyama for almost a year now, ever since he was featured on the cover of Antenna magazine (PDF) in anticipation of a solo show at Joshua Liner Gallery last March. He’s back on the radar for a group show at the same gallery (opening this Saturday), as well as an upcoming solo show at San Francisco’s Frey Norris Gallery in February.


Matsuyama fuses an overtly traditional Japanese style with a contemporary graffiti- and comic-inspired aesthetic, featuring highly stylized figures rendered as flattened forms filled with seemingly arbitrary patterns. He has appropriated the color field to constitute pseudo-woodcut figures (or perhaps vice versa) in a supersaturated patchwork, recklessly cutting and pasting fauvist and abstract expressionist tropes into interlocking shapes. The result is visually stunning with obvious reference points while remaining accessible, if not altogether pop—his arsenal of patterns includes ben-day dots, stripes (à la Stella and jungle cats alike), and plaid, not to mention organic splatters—which belies the autobiographical subtext of confusion over cultural identity and the sense of displacement.


But the alternate universe revealed to us by Matsuyama’s paintings is not cold or desolate—distant, for sure, but not alien. If the imagery itself is patently dream-like and sometimes mythological, his unabashed use of bright colors expresses fantasy as the overarching theme with the utmost immediacy. Although he consistently depicts faces and hands with realistic (flattened) skintones, anything goes for the rest of the clothes, such that the sheer (poly)chroma and variety of patterns might resemble a t-shirt rack at Urban Outfitters. (He also has a thing for green plaid.)


Animals are invariably symbolic, represented with a slightly different subset of patterns (tiger stripes replace plaid), while the boldness of his backdrops flirts with an outright pop sensibility. In an ongoing series featuring a twilit cavalry, Matzu offsets the intrinsic flatness of color fields, which suggests a lack of groundedness, with stylized trees to establish some degree of depth, but—insofar as the gradients contradict realistic shading—the shapes and subtle folds in the textures define the figures.

This image (from last year's solo show) was my desktop for a while

This piece was the centerpiece of last year's solo show, also seen in his studo in the first image

Matsuyama’s masterful synthesis of Eastern and Western elements transcends a mere juxtaposition: both order and chaos operate on every level of his paintings, but the artist blurs the contrast between them through his uncanny command of color and form. Matzu’s fantasy world is conscious of the limits of its medium and of the broader art historical context where it finds its place, but it is ultimately a space of pure painterly reverie: static and beautiful.

Joshua Liner Flyer

Further Group Show
featuring Damon Soule, David Choong Lee, Mars-1, Nome Edonna,
Oliver Vernon, Robert Hardgrave & Tomokazu Matsuyama
Joshua Liner Gallery
548 West 28th Street, 3rd Floor
New York, NY 10001
January 9, 2010–February 6, 2010
Opening Reception: Saturday, January 9th, 6-9 PM
Tomokazu Matsuyama
In Case You’re Lost
Frey Norris Gallery
456 Geary Street
San Francisco, CA 94102
February 4, 2010–March 6, 2010
Opening Reception: Saturday, February 4th, 6-8 PM

  • Arrested Motion has an excellent interview from back in ’08, in which he explains how he transitioned from professional snowboarder to professional artist.
  • I’m in no position to comment on the truth behind my assertion that Matsuyama has adopted the visual language of traditional Japanese art; this essay may elucidate.
  • Juxtapoz has photos from a recent studio visit
  • I noticed that he has a photo of Williamsburg’s Leonora Russo (who I encountered briefly when I first moved to Brooklyn, not knowing who she was) in his portfolio; I wonder if there’s a story behind it.

David Zwirner, Cinders Gallery and Pierogi also have openings tonight (Friday, January 8th). What else?

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