Tomokazu Matsuyama - 20th Century & Contemporary Art & Design Day Sale in association with Yongle Hong Kong Tuesday, November 29, 2022 | Phillips

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  • “Being an Asian artist in New York has given me a lot, and got me to really acknowledge where I’m from and who I am. I almost felt like you were kind of forced to talk about the negativity of your identity, and I kind of never feel comfortable. I think hope is our current reality and I’ve been trying to paint hope in a positive way.”
    — Tomokazu Matsuyama


    Born in 1976 in Japan and now based in Brooklyn, New York, Tomokazu Matsuyama dismantles the rigid cultural parameters in his works, exploring the subject of cultural identity in a post-internet age. Growing up between Japan and America, Matsuyama came from a hybrid culture of East-meets-West. Capturing his personal experience navigating contemporary urban life, he wittily interweaves a multitude of cultural references throughout his works to create a lens for which one can also reflect and explore their own identity.


    In the present work Holy Urine, Matsuyama depicts three protagonists donning garments of the Edo Japan period, with the black-haired boy cupping the very neon liquid, spilled from the tea kettle and flowing down like a golden stream, juxtaposed with the oblivious figures seated above. Matsuyama puts an ultra-contemporary spin on the subject in Holy Urine, going beyond the two-dimensional and injecting further energy through his use of an irregularly-shaped canvas that is suggestive of the outline of a urinal.


    Throughout the canon of art history, artists turned to this subject, from Jacopo Zucchi’s The Golden Age in the 15th century (initially housed at the Villa Medici in Rome) depicting a time in which eternal happiness reined on the Earth with the detail of two boys peeing a brilliant upward arch to symbolise fertility to the subversive Fountain readymade sculpture by Marcel Duchamp in 1917, which consists of a standard urinal, presented on its back for exhibition purposes rather than upright, and more recently, Nicole Eisenman’s Golden Showers with flights of tunic-clad angels funnelling yellow liquids into clouds that unleash on the earth.


    Left: Jacopo Zucchi, The Golden Age, c.1575, Collection of the Gallerie Uffizi
    Right: Marcel Duchamp, Fountain, 1917. Artwork: © 2022 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris / Estate of Marcel Duchamp


    Whilst Holy Urine harkens back to a traditionally Western motif, Matsuyama simultaneously invokes Eastern philosophies through the vanitas symbol of the skull that also hint towards the Shintoism ideal that ‘cleanliness is godliness’, in which the Japanese believed that there was a purpose for cleansing people, places and objects of kagare (meaning evil spirits but literally translating to “uncleanliness” or “defilement”). This combination of the familiar and the strange represents the artist’s own personal identity in limbo between two different homes. Yet it is perhaps this very dilemma that allows Matsuyama to skillfully marry the Western and Eastern, traditional and contemporary in Holy Urine, finding common threads between bipolar aesthetics and creating an alchemical explosion of different cultures.


    Matsuyama’s works resonates with the viewers in a way that brings about happiness and in his own words, likens to ‘the lucky charm factor’. His incredibly technical compositions has the look and feel of a digitally-printed image and this is due to his heavily layered painting process where one area of the canvas can take up to three days to finish. Incorporating a palette of colourful shapes and intricate patterns, Holy Urine is a visual delight that reinvents the pop and graffiti sensibilities lined with a Japanese aesthetic lineage. 



    Frosti Aurora, Digital LED billboard installation at the K11 Foundation / K11 Musea in Hong Kong


    Matsuyama has exhibited widely worldwide including at the Japan Society in New York; the Katzen Arts Center at American University in Washington D.C., and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts among others. His work You Need to Come Closer (2014) was acquired by LACMA in 2021. Furthermore, Matsuyama has engaged in a series of public works since 2019, from murals in The Bowery, New York, and Beverly Hills, California, to two monumental public sculptures unveiled in Tokyo in July 2020 as well as LED billboard installations in Chonqing, China in 2021 and most recently, at the K11 Foundation / K11 Musea in Hong Kong this year. In 2022, he had a solo show at Zidoun-Bossuyt Gallery, Luxembourg.

    • Provenance

      Guy Hepner, New York
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2015

    • Exhibited

      San Francisco, Gallery Wendi Norris, Tomokazu Matsuyama: The Future is Always Bright, 3 May - 30 June 2012


Holy Urine

signed, inscribed and dated '2012.4 Tomokazu Matsuyama [in English and Kanji] NYC' on the reverse
acrylic on canvas
228.6 x 142.2 cm. (90 x 55 7/8 in.)
Painted in April 2012.

Full Cataloguing

HK$600,000 - 800,000 

Sold for HK$1,071,000

Contact Specialist

Danielle So
Specialist, Head of Day Sale
+852 2318 2027

20th Century & Contemporary Art & Design Day Sale in association with Yongle

Hong Kong Auction 30 November 2022