Japanese Modernism Across Media

Conversation with the Past

Nihonga versus Yōga

Contemporary Nihonga

As Chelsea Foxwell notes in her essay on the status of nihonga in the world of contemporary art, from the late Meiji Period to the turn of the twenty-first century, “nihonga’s look and style has remained remarkably consistent.” 6 Since its inception, nihonga has existed in a state of anxiety, with painters and critics alike repeatedly predicting its inevitable demise. Over the years nihonga has been viewed as both being “anachronistic” in its opposition to Euro-American modernism, and as being overshadowed by the fear of loss which generated its inception. 7 In addition, Japanese artists have critiqued nihonga for its implicit themes of Japanese nationalism and its lack of “social and intellectual self-consciousness.” 8 As Foxwell notes, “because [nihonga] was constantly in the position of articulating its relationship with respect to East Asian painting of the past, it also provoked contention over which portions of the past were the most suitable embodiments of Japan.” 9

Thus, as a movement of art that was initially defined through the use of modern techniques to look backward and emulate traditional motifs, an artist’s choice of subject in a nihonga work sends a political message of what subjects and themes should be valued most. As an artist who challenges the status quo and states that she is unable to depict men in her art, this exhibit will show the various ways Matsui is able to confront and subvert the problematic motifs nihonga has historically valued. 

6. Chelsea Foxwell, “The Painting of Sadness? The Ends of Nihonga, Then and Now,” ARTMargins 4, no. 1 (February 1, 2015): 28.

7. Ibid., 29-41.

8.Ibid., 51.

9. Ibid., 41.

Matsui's Process

Supernatural Imagery

Lastly, it is important to touch on the supernatural themes and imagery also present in Matsui's work. In the video below, Matsui answers question about her artwork and her relationship with pain, including why she enjoys drawing creepy women and supernatural creatures (often represented as dogs or crows) in her art.