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2021.10.02 Sat

Rui Matsunaga and the Myth of Survival – an interview with Alice Gee on 燃点 Randian Magazine

by Alice Gee

Rui Matsunaga – The Myth of Survival
Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation (13/14 Cornwall Terrace, Regent’s Park, London)
September 10–November 26, 2021

Rui Matsunaga, a Japanese artist based in Yamaguchi, is obsessed with the end of the world. Over five years she has examined the ‘apocalypse’ through various perspectives: the works of Dürer, animism, tribal and religious myths, and climate change. The result? A series of oil paintings and etchings, populated predominantly by tribes of frogs and rabbits, which play out scenarios in an ecological armageddon.

The etchings look as I had expected — like relics from mystic manuscripts — but I hadn’t realised how small and bright the oil paintings would be. Electric blue skies, luminous white pebbles and paintwork so fine she catches the disgruntled expression of a haggard moon in the space of a thumbnail.


Rui Matsunaga in her studio, 2021 (all images courtesy the artist)

As I move, the sun catches on stars and comets texturally embedded into the paintwork. Matsunaga paints one world we immediately see, and one which can only be seen from certain angles, in certain ‘enlightened’ moments.

Matsunaga’s voice is soft and small, but not subdued: her words fizz with an infectious vibrancy, and 10 minutes into the interview, I realise that the room about us has fallen away. Matsunaga has drawn me into a dance, and we step together fluently through conversations of metaphysics, art and the occult.

Alice Gee: With access to Google and living in such an analytical age, do you think we’re losing our ability to tell or make myths? We used to make them in the absence of ‘answers’, whereas now we have answers readily at our fingertips? 

Rui Matsunaga: I feel like we still keep going back to the three basic myths: the creation myth, the hero’s journey myth, and also a big one, the end-time myth: ‘apocalypse’. The works I’m showing you here today centre around this end-time myth. The famous one is, of course, in the Bible, but most religions, spiritual groups, or any tribe have their own end-time myths. I think it’s almost primordial that we have this fear of life and death, and also the way we bear this fear is to create a basic myth. We need it in order to understand who we are in relation to the world we live in.

Back when we had tribes, tribal myths helped us understand who we are. A child becoming an adult has a ‘rite of passage’ or a hero’s journey myth. These rituals help you realise, okay, I am an adult now, I’m going to behave differently. Today’s equivalent myth is, for example, if you wear a school uniform there is a mythology around that: it creates a kind of identity, a symbolic one, and immediately you can place yourself in society: ‘I study in this place, this is who I am’.

As long as we live, we need to understand who we are, and we need these stories to make sense of who we are. Even today in a Google world where we can look up anything, still, we need myth.


Rui Matsunaga, On the Moon (detail – full picture below)

AG: Talking of searching for your identity, what are your earliest memories of something creative or artistic that inspired you?

RM: I guess children’s books and films and TV series — Godzilla, for example. Godzilla’s a powerful monster, but he was just a little salamander, which became exposed to radiation and became humongous and destroyed everything. At first, it’s about fear of monsters and defeating them. Then, on a deeper level, it becomes a social commentary of the dangers around nuclear power in Japan, and then even deeper is the fear or memory of the atomic bomb in World War Two. So I realised: this children’s story, which I enjoyed on a superficial level, was actually expressing much more complex historical and social ideas.

AG: Godzilla is a perfect example of the three basic myths: there’s the creation myth of something gigantic from nothing, and an explanation for the seemingly impossible. Then the hero’s journey, which is killing the monster. Then there’s the threat of apocalypse lurking in the background — a destructive force in the world, the bomb, that could destroy everything. 

RM: Yes!

AG: So you start with these visual and narrative sources of inspiration, like Durer’s Apocalypse series, or the Bible. But when you sit in front of your ‘blank canvas’, how do you position these characters and create these wonderful and bizarre compositions and narratives? 

RM: The practical method is that I do a lot of drawings — especially of the animals. I take a lot from Japanese scrolls and manuscripts, and I draw and stick them onto the wall. My studio is full of drawings. Then I just look at them, and wait for them to create their own stories.


Rui Matsunaga, Ride of Discord, 2020
Oil on plywood, 20 x 25.5 cm
(image courtesy the artist)

Some of them are based on Christian mythologies, or other mythologies. So, there are some basic ideas which I then adapt to today’s context. For instance, how do we now relate to the ‘Saviour image’? It’s no longer Jesus Christ who is the Saviour image we have. Instead, the image of divinity might be an algorithm, or the image of AI, which might now symbolise transcendence.

AG: A spotlight upon these false idols that we now have, perhaps. There’s one particular piece where there’s a tiger skin on a crucifix that’s been skinned as a sacrifice to human greed…

RM: …And also, because of a lack of communication, because we don’t communicate with the natural world. We are so mortified by the crucifixion of Christ, why are we not as mortified by the sacrifice of tigers? We can shut down our sensitivity towards not only tigers but also other animals, and we repress our senses and sympathy so that we can eat them. Otherwise, we could not do so. And if we really think about that, it’s a small step away from a wider dullness in society where we have absolutely no emotional sympathy for other beings or for each other, which is so dangerous.

Also, we live in a monotheistic society, so whilst we may no longer have a strong religion, money has become…

AG: Our new one god.

RM: Right! So, even love and care have been given a price tag, even ‘spirituality’ has price tags. Everything now exists in relation to money. And what we are losing as a result is the internal — the ‘out of reach’ — or that which we can only try to pinpoint, through poetry or Oracle tradition or something instinctive. Because we can’t fully grasp this aspect of the world, we can’t put a price tag on it. It’s invisible, and I refer to this internal nature in my work as well.


Rui Matsunaga, Chiming Stones, 2016
Oil on plywood, 30 x 40 cm
(image courtesy the artist)


Rui Matsunaga, Chanting Chrysalis 2016
Oil on plywood, 30 x 40 cm

AG: It strikes me then that there’s two kinds of decay or environmental crises depicted: one an external, ecological one, but also another of the internal spirit.

RM: Yes, I think so, and the internal one is more crucial than the outside one.

AG: Perhaps we can’t truly solve the environmental crisis until we solve the internal one. Leading on from that, with the internet and Zoom calls and modern technology, as an animist, how do you feel about this new kind of ‘interconnectedness’?

RM: I think it’s a complex issue, because on the one hand, you mentioned for example, when we have virtual meetings, what we have in front of us is actually just a monitor, but we adjust our mind to consider that a real person is in front of us, and we behave in that way, so that our mind is adjusting to that type of new reality that we are forming.

Not only that, technology increasingly addresses what we have considered metaphysical before: like immortality and death. Now, science is trying to solve death, as if it’s a technical problem. If you’re elite, you can be treated in various ways, with the aim of anti-ageing and eternal life. So, what is the definition of death? Is it now a technical problem? And if so, then what is the definition of life? These questions used to be divine questions, but now scientists are dealing with them.

AG: Before the interview, you mentioned that we need darkness to have light — and you capture both through violence and humour in your work — and it struck me that what you’re suggesting, about society looking and seeking for immortality, is that the further we embark on this quest to eradicate the dark, against death, against mortality, the more we compromise the light in the world, until everything is numbed into some grey dullness. 

RM: Yes! And they are also trying to define ‘what is light?’ ‘What is consciousness’?

AG: And then ‘let’s sell it’! 

RM: Yes! Yes!


Rui Matsunaga, Beast from the Sea, Edition of 5 (AP3), 2018,
from the Apocalypse series, Drypoint, 30 x 20.5 cm
(image courtesy the artist)


Rui Matsunaga, Fearful Symmetry, Edition of 5 (AP 3), 2017,
from the Apocalypse series, Drypoint, 30 x 20.5 cm
(image courtesy the artist)

AG: Is your next project about this theme?

RM: It’s actually about Dante’s Divine Comedy. Some people say that Dante actually experienced this journey through hell and paradise. I thought this was interesting, because a Siberian Shaman also had a similar experience, lasting three days. He went into the abyss, and gained knowledge that normal perception doesn’t allow.

Again, this story has a hero’s mythology, one which we can apply to our own psychological experiences, or how we deal with the subconscious. We live in reality, but there is another parallel world which is more emotional or metaphorical, which is where a lot of our everyday decisions come from.

AG: Even if we don’t realise so. Nietzsche uses the characteristics of two Greek gods: Apollo, who represents rationality, and Dionysis, who represents emotions and instincts, to illustrate this internal struggle. But back to the work: how practically, in what medium and style, do you envision this series?

RM: At this stage — like the Apocalypse series — I’m doing a lot of drawings and etchings, and then I will paint based on the etchings.

My visualization of the Divine Comedy is about going deep inside the psyche. That’s the funny thing about the Divine Comedy. It’s almost like Dante suggests that the more you go down and deep into yourself, an ascension happens. It’s a paradox of life: the deeper you go, the wall or mental block you have falls away, and you ascend as a much freer being.

That’s actually one thing which I’m having a little difficulty with right now. Depicting hell is the easy bit, but depicting heaven is tricky. Botticelli did an amazing job of capturing what is ‘beyond’ our recognition of beauty. Towards the end of his drawings or etchings, it’s almost like you can’t see the lines anymore, the beautiful flowers and light, they become so faint…

AG: The boundaries fade away! 

RM: Yes! How can you contain light!

AG: We spoke earlier of exploring both external and internal crises that humanity faces. I think many of us can relate to going through a really dark moment, having to come back from that, and perhaps then having a radically new perspective on life — maybe depression, or grief, or living through a plague! Does this depict a personal journey for you too?

RM: Yeah, totally. As an artist, you have to go there, to those dark places. I was almost thankful that I had art to be able to express those emotions in a way that was both therapeutic, but also helped me to investigate this darkness a lot more. Like you said, after those experiences, life is different, and you read it differently.

Like Dante’s story, it puts you into perspective that all of this, all these experiences, are part of a journey. When you reach the bottom, you need to remember this is not a place you are going to dwell, but this is a journey. All my works illustrate the cycle of life, even my ‘apocalypse’ series: they are about the end of the world, but also about rebirth. That’s very important.


Rui Matsunaga, On the Moon, 2019, Oil on plywood, 20.5 x 15 cm
(image courtesy the artist)


Rui Matsunaga at Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation, London, 2021


Rui Matsunaga, Beast, Edition of 5 (AP 3), 2017
from the Apocalypse series, Drypoint, 30 x 20.5 cm
(image courtesy the artist)


Rui Matsunaga, Four Riders, Edition of 5 (AP 3), 2017
from the Apocalypse series, Drypoint, 30 x 20.5 cm
(image courtesy the artist)

2020 10 raft mres.jpg

Interview done by Beccy Kennedy for forthcoming monograph to be published in 2021 with Routledge, entitled 'Imaging Migration in Post-war Britain: Artists of Chinese, Korean and Japanese Descent

What drives you to make art?


It is inner compulsion to express myself in visceral and intellectual level as well as urge to search who I am. 

Making art makes it easier to to access where I am not able both consciously and unconsciously. By looking at what I created makes me reflect and often gives insight into what was not previously unknown about myself to me.

In addition, creating art is a way to feel and connect with something bigger than me, and feel as though contributing my bit to it.


What are the current themes in your practice?

I am interested in creating imagery that implies a certain narrative and sense of poetry. I draw inspiration from myth, folklore and popular culture such as books, films and manga. I am also very drawn to the idea of animism – that everything in the world has a consciousness and behind all things there is anima. Animism has been a way of understanding the world since ancient times and still continues to some extent today.


In a sentence or two, how would you describe your practice, e.g what makes it distinctive?


My works are informed by Japanese culture where doomsday weapon of 2 nuclear bombs exploded over cities made a major impact in the deep psyche level. 

 The small creatures in the works can bee seen as morphed projection of our human existence and explore our fragile and sometimes treacherous relationship to nature. They ask the universal existential questions of what does it mean to be a human, in a globalized world where traversing the spirituality of interconnectedness can help lead us to what kind of humanity we wish to be.


Would you ever describe your work as ‘British’?




Would you ever describe your work as ‘British-Japanese’ or ‘Japanese-British’ (with or without the hyphen)?


I describe my work as Japanese, but in some way can be described as Japanese British, without hyphen as I feel both as almost equal and necessary. My art education and subsequently art practice had started and continued in UK. Even though I feel my root as Japanese,  being in UK deeply formed the way how I perceive my identity. Also it is where I have made important relationship with artists who influenced me on making art and finding my voice. I needed to be in UK to see my root as Japanese clearly in reflection of the other, although I don’t mean both are opposite.


Would you ever describe your work as Diasporic or yourself as a diaspora/ diaspora artist? The dictionary defines this as someone who has/is ‘dispersed’ from their homeland. The term has been used to refer to people whom have migrated within their lifetime as well as people whose families/ancestors migrated to the place they now live.


(9.  Would you rather avoid your artwork being associated with concepts of art and ‘diaspora’ or ‘migration’ altogether? If not, are there any related issues which you think are important to address?)


Yes I can describe my work as Diasporic. 


I think identity is one of the deepest questions, and making art is ultimately searching for who we are. We can say that all we do is basically that. The search is getting more complex as our societies get interconnected intimately. More people are

 growing up in multiple cultures today. Where we find our anchor is not simple and visible and depend on the individual.


The emotional bond we create to what we call home will be also more multifaceted, as there are various level of what we call home. 

My identity is deeply rooted in Japan where I was born and raised. However when I think about Japan as my root, it is perhaps not only in geographical sense. Memories of where we have lived play a big role in forming who we are, it is often the intensity of emotional experience, such as the bond of love and friendship we have created there are instrumental in  making particular place home for us. It can be geographically specific place but also any invisible places such as memory, dream or even virtual.


Also considering how the experience of the migration was for the individual influence the work or creativity differently. Whether the move involve any trauma, sense of loss etc. Perhaps 

I connect the word ‘diaspora’ with not only just moving but there is some sense of losing one's home/root, or not being able to go back.


When I migrated to uk, there were no trauma as such. It was just simply the choice of expanding my horizon. Many years later when I moved back to Japan, there was pain to do with separation from my partner. Even though it was my motherland I moved back, there were fears and sorrows, and it had significant influences on the works I have made during that time.


In addition, there is a broader sense of diasporas. It is to do with a sense of wanting to go back to the place we don’t even know. It is deeply psycological place and perhaps the feeling is universal. It is our profound desire for spiritual connection to the source, which we face inevitably when we think about our identity since it is a question of where we come from.


Your work will be featured in a book about art in relation to migration concerning artists of Chinese, Korean and Japanese decent; what is your opinion of these categories/nomenclature?


I think the sense of rootedness and belonging are getting more and more complex and broaden, not only people geographically migrating but mentally and psychologically with the advent of technology and interconnectedness in unprecedented level. It is not only geographical location but intangible invisible space.

The definition of home is also getting more complex.


What alternative categories would you use to discuss your work within this context? 


My work deals with ambiguous narrative of non locational time and space, much like myth and folklore which usually happens long long time ago and a way to bring things in altered space and time. It can be called internal, or imaginative, surreal space. I think it is our archetypal space, where this reality and the others are interconnected. 


What do you think are the main issues within the British-based art scene that need to be critically addressed with regards to equality of representation? This can include recent issues arising from the Black Lives Matter movement or Covid19.


I think works by ethnic minority especially female might not be so much looked upon.


Interview done by Sara Jaspan for Paper Magazine 12/10/2017

Rui Matsunaga is a Japanese born artist who lives and works in London. She graduated from the Royal Academy of Arts in 2002 and will be exhibiting with PAPER at Manchester Contemporary 2017. Here we catch up with the artist about her practice.

Could you tell us a bit about your practice? What subjects does it deal with? What references do you draw upon and from where do these originate? What ideas or concerns are you interested in exploring through your work?

I am interested in creating imagery that implies a certain narrative and sense of poetry. I draw inspiration from myth, folklore and popular culture such as books, films and manga. I am also very drawn to the idea of animism – that everything in the world has a consciousness and behind all things there is anima. Animism has been a way of understanding the world since ancient times and still continues to some extent today.

Old Japanese scroll paintings (emakimono) are a big influence for me, especially the Chōjū-jinbutsu-giga from the 12th century. They are visually woven with animism and possess an ambiguous sense of story-telling that I love. The manga films of Hayao Miyazaki are also very important. I’m drawn to their subject matter (which often deals with the complex shades of human light and darkness), and the way that the animals are drawn. Each of his works are based on such acute observation and affection that everyday actions become beautiful expressions of humanity.

In my own work, I like to create a type of landscape that is not a real but touches upon an inner reality; our sense of time passing, its inevitably and the knowledge that nothing can prevent or change this. Lives are born, rise, fall and die, but the vast landscape continues on as it always has. Our lives are mere echoes that fade. The seasons pass and the wind blows the same. The sense of time and space where everything happens in a place of joy or tragedy passes eventually; leaving, as if everything was a dream.

Your paintings are said to touch partly upon the idea of a post-nuclear bombed society, and the cultural impact of this in relation to nature and fiction. Could you expand upon this?

As a post-nuclear bombed country that has undergone intense industrialization including nuclear power in the 1970s and 80s, Japanese society and culture shows deep concern for the environment. This is reflected in TV series like Godzilla (a giant salamander mutated by radiation), and manga such as Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira and Hayao Miyazaki’s Nausicca. Both Otomo and Miyazaki present post-apocalyptic worlds and focus on stories of survival, leading to new understandings of reality and our relationship with nature.

I paint small creatures such as frogs and rabbits often in deserted, bone scattered, ruinous landscapes. These images are intended as dystopic visions of the possible future we might be creating for ourselves. Though they appear as animals, the creatures could also be seen as projected forms of ourselves, tapping into a critical core where everyday reason and logic is suspended (in the same way that a fight with Godzilla can be metaphorically understood as a symbol of our fear and concern for the environment, for example).

Similarly, your work is said to deal with the increasingly technology based nature of society today. How do you think technology has shaped us and our relationship with nature? And how is this explored in your work?

My work does not deal with the technology based nature of society, but rather I draw inspiration from the type of change occurring in our culture as a result of today’s increasingly technological world.

Myth and folklore are constantly being reshaped, morphed and retold to fit the needs of the time. And with people continually moving from one place to another, cultural crossover has become far more significant. As a result, the narratives we carry have had to change. For example, I have recently been working on a drypoint piece inspired by Albrecht Dürer’s Apocalypse series. In Dürer’s prints, God and His angels are a type of transcendence which infuse all beings with the principles of monotheism. Transcendence is like a single beacon on top of a hierarchy. In such a system, everything has its value set by referring to the top beacon, which creates light and shadow, good and bad etc. However, in today’s more secular and scientific world, such divinity or judgement is less applicable. I therefore wanted to create a more ambiguous image of how an apocalypse might be, and fuse it with a mythological vision of our relationship with nature over the remaining course of the 21st century.

You seem to also reference European folklore and art history (Renaissance painting, drawings and etchings etc.). Is this deliberate? Are you consciously trying to merge or examine the relationship between different cultures?

Living in the UK and frequently visiting museums containing a lot of European Western paintings, it’s hard not to be inspired and influenced by the work that I see. I’m also very interested in Christianity as it plays such a central role in the old masters’ works. When you look at older works of art, they are often infused with stories from the Bible, Greek mythology and folklore, and this can play a significant part in understanding what the work is about. I like this aspect as it adds another layer of story – the artist expanding on the original. This makes me want to expand in my own way, to help the stories continue on.

What draws you to the medium of paper? Do you work across other mediums as well?

I mostly create oil paintings, drypoint etchings and drawings. I like the boundary of the frame in which I can explore many layers of narrative. I’ve always admired story book illustrations and manga comics, some of which are utterly beautiful. And I love paper as a material itself. I have seen some of the amazing ways it can be made, such as Samarkand silk paper which is polished using stones and shells, and am fascinated by the many methods and often locally sourced materials that are used.

You’ll be exhibiting with PAPER at this year’s Manchester Contemporary. Is this the first time that your work will be shown as part of the fair, and what pieces are you planning to exhibit?

Yes, it’s the first time. I’ll be showing a series of drypoints inspired by Albreht Durer’s woodcut series of The Revelation of St John.

Where do you think your work sits in relation to the field of contemporary painting today?

I’m on the margins of contemporary art. I make only what I am inspired to make. I let others to decide where my work sits.

How do you think your practice will develop going forwards?

This year was dedicated to creating a series of etchings. I have just returned from a three-week journey across part of the Silk Road. It started in China at the extraordinary Buddhist painted Dunhuang caves, and ended at Uzbekistan’s beautiful mosques, palaces and the Necropolis, which opened my eyes to the crossroads of cultures and beliefs at the edge of China and Central Asia. I think next year will be about how those inspiring experiences will visually inform my paintings.

Interview by Sara Jaspan


© Rui Matsunaga 

Interviewed by Susie Pentelow, Traction Magazine, 29/08/16


‘Hardboiled Wonderland’ brings together three artists who each draw inspiration from Surrealist canon. How has Surrealism influenced you and your work?

The Surrealist canon that deals with the human psyche and explores our unconscious as a main subject is one of my influences, but perhaps the main aspect is that which relates to the idea of the overlapping realities which is outside of a perceived reality. These aspects explore the reality in which our reason and logic get put aside, things happen in a more symbolic manner which can be described as mythological or perhaps like what Jung called the collective unconscious. I am interested in creating spaces dealing with those different layers of reality where things of nature and animal can exist as spirit, the sense of time and space is non locational. These can be seen as fantastical worlds and also our internal landscape. One of my favourite artists is Leonora Carrington as she uses a lot of symbolic language which refers to her background of folklore, mysticism, paganism, and alchemy to create the world which looks like one’s dreamscape, or altered conscious reality.

There is an eerie quality to the almost-deserted landscapes in your compositions. Are these inspired by a particular place?

Not a real place but the place I imagined from books, films and poems that touch our inner reality. Emily Bronte’s “Wuthering Heights” or Akira Kurosawa’s film “Ran” are some of the big inspirations in terms of atmosphere of landscape.
I like to create landscapes where you feel time passing, an inevitable sense that nothing can prevent the passage of time and change. Lives born, rise, be, fall, and die. But the vast landscape continues on as they always have, our lives a mere echo that fades. The seasons pass and the wind blows the same. Like a Haiku poem by Basho “That summer grasses, All that remains, Of ancient warriors’ dreams”. The sense of time and space where everything happens in a place of joy or tragedy passes eventually, leaving as if everything was dream. I like to create the contrast to highlight our tenuous existence and fragile mortality.

Looking at your work I am struck by the fact that your subjects often seem to be striving for a connection - with nature, or with one another - especially in those pieces which depict rituals or ceremonies, such ‘Rock Party’. Is this an important theme in your work?

I love reading books about various mystic traditions and have attended rituals in the deep mountains of Japan. The experience gave me long lasting impression and some understanding to the sense that there are many layer’s of reality and our everyday normal living are deeply connected to the surrounding nature in every moment. It also led to interests in animism which consider everything in this world has some sort of consciousness, and there are lots of ceremony and rituals based on this philosophy. They symbolise not only trying to connect people, but people with the land they live in, or sometimes people with more abstracted ideas such as another world. I am interested in this aspect because they express our sensibility to the very layer of reality we live in and its boundary, a sensibility to the worlds beyond our perception of reality. Animals in my work can be seen as a projected form of our personality tapping into its critical core where our everyday reason and logic is suspended.

The title of the exhibition references a novel by the author Haruki Murakami. How does this work reflect the themes present in the exhibition?

Murakami’s “Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World” is a novel in which two seemingly independent stories or reality proceed, one is closer to what we live in, the other more fable, symbolic and fantastical. They seem unrelated at first but as the stories unfold it is revealed the two worlds are deeply connected and interdependent. This can be seen as different layers of realities in one person. We think we are living our surface conscious, but in truth, what lies beneath are thoughts, emotions and images accumulating every day to form something which affects our every day narrative and decision making. Murakami put someone, something or an event as a catalyst to work as gateways to access this abyss which gives an understanding and communication to the everyday. These things are applicable to the subject of my work and to the act of painting itself. Also I like the novel's ambiguous ending that feels like everything is not lost, the end of one dimension continues to the next even though it seems like echoes or ripples across time and space left from one point of view. The sensitivity to the fragility of life yet the interconnectivity of multiple dimensions of reality gives me a deep sense of spiritual recovery and profound meaning that I find in the expression of painting.

What is coming up next for you?

I have a solo exhibition at the House of St. Barnabas from Oct 2016 to Jan 2017 followed by a three person exhibition, including Nahem (who is also in Hardboiled Wonderland) at the Royal Albert Memorium Museum in Exeter in 2017 summer.

© Rui Matsunaga 

Interviewed by Marcello Milteer,, 29/04/13


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?

"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?

"We had kids TV programme 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?

"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?

"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?

"Hayao Miyazaki’s work is a huge influence on my work. I watched “ Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (Kaze no Tani no Naushika, 1984) ” 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."

Aside from which, what are some of your favorite Asian films?

"Princess Mononoke, Laputa, Spirited Away, Drunken Masters, Mr Vampire"

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?

"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?

"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?

"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 broadend my interest and appreciation towards old masters."

© Rui Matsunaga 

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