Friday, April 18, 2008

April 19: Shunsuke Matsumoto (1912-1948)

[Image description: "Back Side of Tokyo Station," by Shunsuke Matsumoto, a painting of a railyard in blacks and greys, with much of the station in silhouette against a grey sky]

Japanese artist Shunsuke Matsumoto was born Sunshuke Sato on this date in 1912, in the Shibuya district of Tokyo. He grew up in northern Japan, at Hanamaki in the Iwate prefecture. When he was 13, he became deaf after surviving meningitis. He moved back to Tokyo when he was 17, intent on becoming a painter. His works in oil and his drawings depict detailed, dreamlike images of the city--bridges and cathedrals, crowds and windows--and later, a series of figure studies, portraits and self-portraits, among other subjects. He exhibited often in Tokyo, opened a studio, married Teiko Matsumoto, and took her surname. With his wife, he produced a magazine, Zakkicho (Notebook) that ran 14 issues, devoted to art and essays. In another journal of commentary, Mizue, he published a famous 1941 essay, "The Living Artist," defending modern art from charges of degeneracy, when most other young artists were serving in the military. In this passage from that essay, he refers to his deafness as he compares visual arts to music:
I often have to defend the meaning of abstract works. When it happens, I have no way to explain them other than to use the example of music, even though I am not really qualified because I have lost my hearing. It is possible that the nuances of color, line, or shape describe the movement of human feelings, as melody can stimulate all kinds of emotions.
After WWII, he started an artists' organization to revitalize Japanese communities. He died at 36, from heart failure (he had chronic health problems from asthma and tuberculosis). In 1998, the art museum in Iwate marked the 50th anniversary of his passing with an exhibit of 92 paintings and 45 drawings. "All of these pictures filled with his joy in the painterly process evoke a sense of Shunsuke's faith in the painting and his deep love for the human condition," declared the exhibit catalog.

See also:

Mark H. Sandler, "The Living Artist: Matsumoto Shunsuke's Reply to the State," Art Journal (September 1996). Online here.

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