Japanese born Rui Matsunaga is a London based artist whose distinctive paintings and drawings invent an alluring world in which cartoon icons and luminaries of pop culture meet with magical spirits and ancient mythologies. Her figures introduce us to a kind of contemporary folklore, and as critic Morgan Falconer suggests, ‘show us the shapes and attributes of what we might call Modern Gods’. Matsunaga reclaims her figurative imagery from a variety of sources including magazines, films, books and the Internet. Some of the artist’s characters come from the distinctive world of Manga and the broad genres of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Read below for the full interview…
You currently reside in London and it seems Asian art is very prominent there as international auctioneers of rare Imperial and Export Chinese ceramics. Is it a challenge at all developing your artwork in a foreign land?
Rui: I feel the opposite of it being more difficult to develop my work because I live in London. By being in such a culturally diverse city, I come to be more aware of otherwise what was unnoticed in me, which is very useful to develop the work.
What role does folklore play in your art and where did this interest in myths enter at what stage in your life?
Rui: We had kids TV program called “Once upon a time in Japan” (Nihon Mukashi Banashi) every Saturday night which gave 3 animation folk stories each time. I enjoyed watching them since 7 years old. They had a story like a deep haunted pond was exocised only to find it was resided by huge white dragon as a guardian who flew to the sky, or metal baby boy was born from mountain hug to become a hero to defeat alcohol drinking giants (Oni). I was fascinated by those stories full of wonders and imagination and through these atomospheres of stories interpreted and related the world around me as I lived in a relatively rural area. It was much later on that I realized these story had many layers, often talking about the story of suppressed/oppressed race and cultures in symbolic manners.
You have a show at Beastly Hall that showcases unlikely monsters and unnatural beings. Could you tell us a bit how you approached this theme and your creative process?
Rui: I did not make work specifically for this theme. Work was made already and Art Wise (curater) has selected them.
A lot can be said about how a subject walks, carries themselves, the way they wear their hair, etc. How do you incorporate such subtle nuances into your work and how receptive is your audience to picking up these small, yet important, details?
Rui: These nuances are very important fro me. Ultimately these nuances are one of the prominent way to communicate the world I want to create there, where animal and plant talk, dance, pray like human, and the boundary between human and other beings starts to melt as they are fundamentally mythological language which overcome any normal sense of logic and reasoning of everyday.
Manga is also an influence of yours. Could you go into detail how these publications, and maybe even anime, have an impact on your work?
Rui: Hayao Miyazaki’s work is a huge influence on my work. I watched “Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind” when I was sixteen. It became my mythology, by which I mean they gave me a perspective/understanding on what is happening in the world I am living in and basic relationship between myself and the world around me in a prophetic way. My childhood 70’s and early 80’s Japan was still going through intense industrialization and expansion which also caused lots of environmental concern. Nausicaa’s post apocalyptic world where giant worms guard fungus forest which cleanse the toxin human has created did have a deep reality even by then. Miyazaki does not try to describe about the struggle between nature and human world but always it is more about the journey and search of someone who can intermediate between them. I think this is the theme of comtemporary world and mythology of this planet.
Also I love the way he draw animal and especially their face and movement as it has such love and understanding in it backed by acute observation. When I make my work general tone of balance between positiveness and negativeness is something I learned from his work.
The type of art you produce, the aesthetic debate in America has endlessly circled around the contradiction between so-called autonomous or pure art on the one hand and engaged or political art on the other. How important is it as an artist to have autonomy in your process?
Rui: I just create what my heart want to do. I am not thinking whether the works are autonomous. I am not sure anything can be truly autonomous in such an interconnected world.
On the other side of the coin, even if you agree art is autonomous, that autonomy is a product of a fundamental unfreedom—an unfreedom before which artists are extremely vulnerable. Since you give so much of yourself in your artwork (your feelings, imagination, passion, etc.), do you ever have a sense of uneasiness when you release art to the masses?
Rui: I do feel vulnerable, but that is ok. I enjoy looking at other people’s work. Some I like, some not, some I love. I will be really happy if someone happen to like what I like. But everyone has different view and senses.
Regarding formal education, how has your masters degree aided you in your career and has it heightened your sense of technique and fundamentals?
Rui: Doing MA and painting in my studio on my own are not so different for me. However, being Royal Academy and able to look at old masters works in their old building has broadened my interest and appreciation towards old masters.
Lastly, any advice for any artists who may be struggling?
Rui: Follow your heart.
Want to stay up to date on Rui’s work? Visit the official site below: