Tomokazu Matsuyama - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale Hong Kong Friday, October 6, 2023 | Phillips
  • “A lot of people see my work as a mixture of Eastern and Western cultures. It’s not only so. I am not looking at the world in black and white, but trying to find the grey areas, where I can find new perspectives and ideas.”
    — Tomokazu Matsuyama

    Blending the ornamental and conceptual, traditional and modern, the arresting works of Japanese artist Tomokazu Matsuyama seek to dismantle the rigid cultural parameters often found in contemporary society. Growing up between Japan and America, Matsuyama became familiar with the contrasting visuals and cultural dialects that exist in the world, and soon found interest in exploring the dichotomy between his dual identities, by injecting his canvases with explosions of diverse, global references.


    The artist sitting beside the current work in 2019


    Highly committed to furthering his aesthetic evolution, the artist undertakes many hours of intensive research into source imagery and applies a multitude of custom paint blends onto each of his vivid mash-up like paintings. In Daylight in My Place, a young figure with brilliant hair stands at the centre of the canvas amongst a flourishing and luscious ecosystem. Imagery from traditional sources and modern society blend into one dreamlike landscape. Exploring questions of national and individual identity through the subject matter of his paintings, Matsuyama employs an exceptionally unique visual language to reflect on the experience of contemporary diaspora and to articulate themes of selfhood and diversity in the context of globalisation. As a result, his paintings act as a lens for viewers to confront their own conceptions of cultural homogeneity as we all navigate the natural chaos of our social environments.



    Bridging the Gap: When East Meets West


    “I want to create work that is digestible to different audiences based on the viewer’s upbringing. At the end, we are a global self, we are one human. [..] We live in this organic chaos where the definition of our being and culture is complex. I want to portray that in my art; it is my ultimate goal.”
    — Tomokazu Matsuyama

    Bold yet delicate, Matsuyama’s fluorescent compositions of polychromatic patterns and electric colourways showcases the artist’s vast vocabulary of iconographical material. Influenced by a variety of subjects, ranging from Japanese art from the Edo and Meiji periods, classical Greek and Roman statuary to French Renaissance painting and post-war contemporary art, Matsuyama brings together an amalgamation of widely recognisable cultural references in his paintings. Intentionally giving such narratives no distinct separation, he reckons the familiar local with the familiar global, merging visual and cultural dialects into a singular, harmonious scene and subsequently, transcends all worldly boundaries.


    Left: Robe (Kosode) with Mandarin Orange Tree and Auspicious Characters, second half of the 18th century
    Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

    Right: Cranes, Pines, and Bamboo, early 18th century
    Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York


    The artist’s unique spirit of visual diversity is clearly visible in Daylight in My Place and pays direct homage to his Japanese roots. Posing like a model from fashion magazines, the protagonist is dressed in a flowing cloak tied at the back by a red ribbon, which recalls the traditional garment kosode worn throughout the 12th to 19th centuries, similarly fastened at the waist too. Intricately rendered with floral and bamboo patterning, the colourful imagery echoes the flora and fauna in the background. Like the boundless landscapes of Edo-period folding screens, Matsuyama adorns his canvas with hyper-realistic depictions of lush vegetation, from the succulently-green foliage to the cherry blossoms and wild flowers in full bloom, all natural imagery that are typically endowed with propitious symbolism: flowers represent beauty and trees, strength and longevity. In the lower left foreground, a cat with luscious pearl-white fur and red ears can be seen on the prowl, bearing resemblance to the recognised fortune cat ‘maneki-neko’ believed to attract good luck and fortune. In sampling elements of history, the US-based artist fully embraces the heritage of his home country and brings focus to uniquely Asian ideals as a means of celebrating the parabolic nature of Japanese art.


    Detail of the present lot 


    Whilst Daylight in My Place is deeply rooted in traditional East-Asian subjects , there are hints of modernity, commodity, and Western influences scattered across the composition. Although the artist takes inspiration from folding screens, the choice of a shaped canvas points towards postwar art and the movement’s determination to depart from the ‘flat rectangle’ and its constraints. The contrast in cultures is further heightened in the depiction of the protagonist and his attire. Underneath the traditional Japanese garment, it appears that the figure is wearing pink sweatpants printed with innumerable and repetitive Japanese ‘Hello-Kitty’ characters, a stark contrast to the white ‘maneki-neko’ cat in the lower left foreground, as a double-edged motif symbolising the effects of mass-consumerism and the emergence of ‘kawaii’ culture that grew internationally. Looking further down, the figure wears stylish open-toed sandals, revealing light blue nail polish on his toes, a reference to both the evolution of footwear and the growth of the beauty industry in contemporary society.  Standing on a red gingham blanket, it immediately calls to mind the most iconic American picnic traditions such as the Fourth of July Picnic and The Southern Picnic, where picnickers would enjoy a meal taken outdoors (al fresco) as part of an excursion in picturesque settings with grand views.

    Utilising a highly specific aesthetic that incorporates a world of contrasting visual and cultural dialects, Matsuyama’s paintings are thus masterful combinations of long-lasting traditions and contemporary trends - while some images may have existed for centuries, others may have been conceived one month ago and while some motifs are recognisable by all, others require more perspective to facilitate a deeper understanding of his works. In mixing aspects of international culture that do not normally coexist, Matsuyama successfully creates visually pleasing paintings like Daylight in My Place that appear simultaneously familiar and strange. On one hand, it represents the artist’s personal limbo as he straddles two opposing cultures abroad and on the other hand, it conjures up a universal experience that transcends all memories and dreams, as well as the past and present. Taking advantage of mankind’s ever-growing curiosity, Matsuyama cleverly challenges the definition of culture and what it means to be a global citizen in the 21st century.



    In Interview: The Search For Individuality


    In 2023, Matsuyama spoke to DailyArt Magazine’s Ania Kacztnska about how personal experiences, observations and interests informed his unique multi-cultural practice.


    Ania Kacztnska: Your artistic practice is often described as cross-cultural, combining both Eastern and Western influences, such as ukiyo-e prints or European Renaissance paintings, and melding their aesthetic principles together. This results in a style that resists any categorization. What does this collision of cultures mean to you?

    Tomokazu Matsuyama: For me, it’s not just about the clash of cultures, but more about what we can relate to as individuals. I live in America and have also spent time in London, which is a very multicultural city.

    America, particularly New York, is a melting pot of cultures and languages, with more than a hundred religions being practiced. This results in a diverse range of values that we all live with and independence being celebrated and encouraged.
    However, as a New Yorker, I question what individualism really means. Is it just about being loud and proud about our backgrounds and identities, both positive and negative? I find it challenging to connect with people from different backgrounds because everyone is so unique and there is no norm.
    Although the art world is still dominated by white men, at the same time there are many voices and identities being amplified to be accepted. This is where I bring in my reality and try to create something visually elegant and artistic.


    AK: And where did this interest to engage with art historical themes emerge in your practice?

    TM: My creative motivation is to include art history references, such as Picasso or Japanese paintings, along with consumer and popular culture references, like bags of potato chips and current fashion attire.

    I’m interested in how visual information becomes validated as historical and why certain pieces are deemed important and displayed in museums.

    I find it subjective and wonder what makes art historical or contextual. As an Asian artist, I don’t try to adapt to what’s considered art history but instead try to find my own connections between different pieces, even if they seem to clash, such as corporate logos and historical paintings. I see no difference in the information we consume in daily life and the pieces displayed in museums.


    Read the full interview here.



    Collector’s Digest


    Installation view of the current lot at Chongqing, The Long Museum, Accountable Nature, 7 March - 23 May 2021


    • Born in Gifu, Japan in 1976, Tomokazu Matsuyama received his MFA in Communications Design from the Pratt Institute, and currently works in Brooklyn, New York. Influenced by a variety of sources, his works take inspiration from subjects such as Japanese traditional art, the French Renaissance, post-war artistic movements and mass consumer culture. The artist’s works are held in the permanent collections of global institutions such as the Long Museum, Shanghai, Asian Art Museum, San Francisco and LACMA, Los Angeles.

    • 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 upcoming solo show at the Hirosaki Museum of Contemporary Art, titled Fictional Landscape, will be held from 27 October 2023 – 17 March 2024.

    • Since 2019, Matsuyama has engaged in a series of public works, from murals in The Bowery, New York, and Beverly Hills, California, to two monumental public sculptures unveiled in Tokyo in July 2020. Most recently, the artist unveiled a mural at SUNY Upstate Medical Institute, New York in 2023, and will launch the installation Infinity Trinity at CHUNICHI BUILDING, Nagoya in spring of 2024.

    • Provenance

      Kotaro Nukaga, Tokyo
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Shanghai, Long Museum West Bund; Chongqing, The Long Museum, Accountable Nature, 12 November 2020 - 23 May 2021


Daylight In My Place

signed, titled, inscribed and dated '"Daylight In My Place" 8. 2019 NYC Tomokazu Matsuyama [in English and Kanji]' on the reverse
acrylic and mixed media on canvas
254 x 185 cm. (100 x 72 7/8 in.)
Executed in 2019.

Full Cataloguing

HK$1,200,000 - 2,200,000 

Sold for HK$2,540,000

Contact Specialist

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

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

Hong Kong Auction 6 October 2023