Tomokazu Matsuyama – Pattern Language
April 20th – 20th May 2023
Almine Rech London
Grosvenor Hill, Broadbent House, London W1K 3JH
If you could read a pattern like a page in a book, the intricate textiles and wallpapers in Tomokazu Matsuyama’s paintings would speak volumes. Colourful motifs crowd the dense, graphical surfaces of his works, forming garden vistas or intimate boudoirs. Their origins are eclectic: a luscious floral might be drawn from a print by 19th century British de- signer William Morris or from an Edo Period kimono. In a bed of plants from divergent climes, an empty Sapporo bottle and a Starbust wrapper lie like the detritus of globalisation.
A portrait inspired by a photograph of French couturier Christian Dior, meanwhile, bears the golden flourishes of a counterfeit Hermes scarf that Matsuyama bought in New York’s garment district. Completed on dynamically shaped canvases, these paintings take their composition- al cues from Grand Manner portraits or pastorals in the premodern European tradition, while their use of skewed perspectives and absence of shading recall the flat planes of Japanese woodblock prints known as ukiyo-e. Signifiers of East and West are willfully scrambled here, as are renditions of the ‘real’ and the ‘fake.’ In Matsuyama’s work, as with his own diasporic identity, such differences are shaky social constructions.
When it comes to patterns, hardened notions of ownership and appropriation have been obsolete since at least the 16th century, when Dutch traders brought wax prints to West Africa, Polynesia, and Japan. In our era of heightened international trade and digital information exchange, cultural sampling occurs at an ever-increasing rate. Matsuyama’s own dialogue between East and West recalls the transformational influence of ukiyoe on European Impressionism by tracing their journey in reverse. The result is a syncretism that speaks to Matsuyama’s own trajectory as a global citizen and, in turn, embodies the postmodern condition.