Earlier this year, the artist Tomokazu Matsuyama was challenged by Toshiba. The Japanese software company’s Australian branch gave the artist an Ultrabook—a laptop similar to the MacBook Air—tasking him with creating an entire exhibition for Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art using only the device. What’s more, he had to accomplish this within the 17 hours that it would take him to get from Tokyo to Sydney, which is also the total battery life of the computer. The challenge, which resulted in five paintings created from the computer’s camera and software programs, was a significant undertaking for an artist who usually requires anywhere from two months to six months to create a single painting.
Born in Hida-Takayama, a traditional mountain village in Japan, Matsuyama initially faced extreme culture shock when his family relocated to Orange County, California during the ’80s. But after immersing himself in the area’s surf and skate culture, he quickly adapted, becoming a real “west-coast boy.” Upon returning to Japan, Matsuyama experienced the irony of feeling like an outsider in his native country. Currently, the artist works out of a studio in Brooklyn, New York, where he feels overwhelmingly Japanese. These notions of an “identity crisis,” which have been with him since childhood, are constantly at play in his work.
“In my work, I am interested in bringing together bi-polar aesthetics. For example, that of the West and that of the East; something that is very traditional and something that is very contemporary; something very ornamental yet something that’s very conceptual,” Matsuyama has said. His paintings often pick up on the themes and aesthetics of Japanese Ukiyo-e, the popular woodblock prints from the Edo (1603-1868) and Meiji (1868-1912) eras. Drawing on his graphic design training, the artist reworks traditional Japanese imagery, blending it with pop cultural references such as modern day Japanese Manga and Playmobil toys.
While his vibrant pieces may appear to be fabricated, the works are painstakingly executed by hand. The artist conceives and designs his intricately layered, large-scale canvases, then realizes them together with assistants in an arrangement akin to the traditional Japanese atelier system.
Following the June presentation of Matsuyama’s Toshiba project at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, his recent work is now featured in Lesley Kehoe Galleries’s 2015 Sydney Contemporary fair presentation, titled “OUTSIDE LOOKING IN.” There, his dreamlike, technicolor compositions, such as Thin line Between Us and Sure Why Not (both 2014), will be showcased alongside several free standing sculptural pieces, such as the maquette for Project Sky is the Limit (2014), later realized as a six-meter stainless steel sculptural installation at the entrance of Hong Kong’s Harbour City last year.
The presentation continues the theme of Matsuyama’s show of the same name last year, offering a look at how Japanese artists create from the perspective of being outsiders within their own culture. “There are benefits and costs in the trend towards globalization. One of the greatest costs is the loss of identity in a sea of mundane homogeneity,” explains Lesley Kehoe, who curated the show. “Matsuyama has discovered a unique creativity in the dissonance of his mixed cultural upbringing.”