Tomokazu "Matzu" Matsuyama's exhibition at the Reischauer Institute at Harvard University is titled "Palimpsest." Referring to a piece of papyrus on which the original writing has been erased to create space for new writing, the word references the visible traces of the past. Newer elements trace older elements, shifting ever so slightly in reaction to current conditions.
On the occasion of the publication of Matzu's monograph, A Thousand Regards, I had the opportunity to write about Matzu's artistic practice, deconstructing his goals to act as a cultural filter to his intended audiences. The essay can be read here.
Matzu's works were exhibited in various parts of the building, and while the space is clearly not a museum, its white walls and spacious interior, together with the light streaming in from the enclosed courtyard, made for a serene and appropriate environment for Matzu's art. Now familiar Matzu motifs, including kirin, abstract all-over birds, and samurai on horseback, shared wall space with slightly older work from 2008 and 2009, as well as a highly graphic and stylized interpretation of the Japanese pre-modern theme of a dragon in the clouds (Permanent Traveler, seen in the above installation view on the far wall), reminiscent of Soga Shohaku's Dragon and Clouds.
A small work of acrylic and mixed media on canvas, entitled Sex Buddies (2013), caught my eye. Matzu informed me that he took shunga (erotic prints) as his inspiration; particularly X-rated portions of shunga pieces were often covered over, only to draw more attention to those very areas. In Matzu's work, orange squares floated atop the white spectral outlines of figures playfully engaging with each other.
Earlier this summer, I had visited Matzu's studio to see some of his new work.
Matzu had been working on a number of large scale, all-over abstract paintings in preparation for his upcoming show at Gallery Zidoun. These intensely colored works feature a flatness often considered indicative of the 'flat' nature of today's globalized post-modern society. Seen throughout the color field are painterly Jackson Pollock-esque brush strokes, as well as seemingly abstract forms that materialize into birds of all sizes. Matzu riffs on the theme of senbazuru, or "one thousand cranes" -- a Japanese cultural proxy for wish fulfillment and peace. By incorporating playful areas into the work, the viewer's gaze is permitted to occasionally stop upon a teeny tiny yellow owl, an abstract floral-patterned shape that looked like a side profile of a face, or the beak of a bird whose body overflowed on to the sides of the canvas.
While Matzu lives and works in New York (the +718 to be exact), he continues to be shown all over the world, working with various galleries and institutions. His aesthetic, sensitive to his global surroundings, ensures a captive, varied audience.
A bonus teaser image for a future blog post on Mysterabbits below: