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Contemporary Ukiyo-e Interpreted by Edi Matsumoto

Bugeisha, oil on canvas © Edi Matsumoto

“Healthcare is my profession…There are great rewards in saving lives and healing the sick and wounded. There are also dilemmas, struggles, and frustrations that accompany these responsibilities. These paintings tell my stories.”

- Edi Matsumoto

Edi Matsumoto’s richly saturated works capture medical workers from an intimate perspective, both humanizing and idolizing their presence. The Japanese artist once spent three months at Mother Theresa’s Home for the Dying Destitutes in Calcutta, India, helping care for the sick.

Samurai Gaze, oil on canvas © Edi Matsumoto

Edi Matsumoto holds a bachelor's degree in anthropology from Tsukuba University in Japan. She came to the U.S. and earned a Master's degree in Advanced Nursing, and has been working in healthcare for over 25 years. In 2018, she earned a second Master's degree in Fine Arts from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. Her works have been shown at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco, the Triton Museum of Arts in Santa Clara, and the Pacific Grove Art Center, among others.

Her brilliant deconstruction of a surgeon’s drab, pastel, garb into pulsating hues of blues, purples, reds and greens, is reminiscent of a divisionist’s fervor. The inclusion of deep maroons in the depth of the folds signify rich darkness and reinforce the old atelier idea that there is no realistic object that is completely black.

This ARC living artist’s realistic renditions have moments where they overpower the viewer with their sheer magnification and at times, beg one to inspect the intricate background designs more closely.

FoxMask, oil on canvas © Edi Matsumoto

Concentration in Medicine

Her work “Concentration” best represents her oeuvre. Reminiscing, she says, “At that time, my teacher advised me never to paint a face larger than its actual size. The reference photograph was of an intense surgeon's face in the middle of a surgery, wholly absorbed in his task to alleviate the patient's ailment. The image was so compelling that I felt a strong need to paint it large. To show the look of concentration, the wrinkles on the face, the skin's texture, and the impact I chose a 24x36 canvas and filled the canvas with his face.”

“An inspiration was also Chuck Close, whose works are often the size of a wall. I had seen the documentary story that he is disabled but he never gave up painting. That was something I had in my mind when I painted ‘Concentration’.” says Matsumoto.

© Edi Matsumoto

“The photograph came from a friend of mine. I was looking for a photograph, or a model to paint of somebody who was actually operating as I was doing the healthcare series. I was taking pictures of a friend, who was also a photographer. He sent me a number of pictures and when I saw that image, it had so much impact, and became my greatest inspiration,” says the Japanese artist. The photograph turned out to be of a well-known surgeon, Dr. Edgar Rodas. who served, among other positions, as Minister of Health of Ecuador, Vice-Rector and Professor of Surgery at the University of Cuenca, President of the Ecuadorian Surgical Society, Founding Dean of the Medical School, University of Azuay, and President of Ecuadorian Section of Amnesty International.

“I received an email from Dr. Rodas' son, Dr. Edgar Rodas Jr. He saw my painting while browsing the internet for surgeons' pictures. He recognized his father's face immediately and contacted me to know more about the image. We connected, shared stories, and I decided to donate a copy of the painting "Concentration" to him in Richmond, VA, and another one to his family, who still live in Cuenca, Ecuador,” says Matsumoto.

Lady-Samurai, oil on canvas © Edi Matsumoto

Ukiyo-e and Femininity

The background colors and plethora of objects echo the intricately planned through composition laid down by her. In her series ‘Goddesses and Warriors’, the compositions of the screens and objects used in the background seem to single out as stand-alone artworks. The obvious influence of Japanese woodblock prints is apparent. Elegant and opulent Japanese, kimono clad women are depicted with a play of dramatical lighting and a seductive stance.

‘In Ukiyo-e the backgrounds are usually plain. A good impactful background that most people know about is Mount Fuji with two boats. Especially in the time of COVID, we are small compared to the force of nature. In contrast, I painted a determined female warrior who showed poise and strength. The beauty of the armor resembles the human being. It contains a lot of symbolism,‘ says Matsumoto.

This series was to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Constitutional amendment in the U.S., which allowed women to vote. The timing of the production also coincided with the “Me Too” movement. “The models are from diverse backgrounds: the U.S., Japan, South Pacific, and Indonesia. Some have more goddess quality and others are more warrior-like, and some have both.”

Oiran Glance, oil on canvas © Edi Matsumoto

“Let these figures be the reminders of our inner goodness, beauty, strength, wisdom, and life force. I hope you find the goddess and warrior within you and use your power to change the world around you with your love and courage.”

In her Pacific Grove, CA, show, each work was accompanied by a haiku, which is a Japanese three-line poem. The inclusion of the “great wave” in the work Bugeisha, is a great example of the fusion between spirituality and warrior spirit in Matsumoto’s work. Originally, the 36 Views of Mount Fuji, made by Katsushika Hokusai, was never about a wave at all. It was about a view of Mount Fuji which was revered by Shintoism and Buddhism. The Ukiyo-e like subject of warrior and golden backgrounds with bright colors and sensuous figures, reminds one of the 17th Century Japanese artist Moro Nobu. The works depict the “floating world” that has oft been described in Buddhism. The Edo period works generally included Courtesans, Kabuki actors and Warriors. The contemporary translation of these traditional print characteristics in Masumoto’s work is most compelling.

“The first 22 years of my life, until I graduated from college, I only lived in Japan. Definitely the Japanese culture influenced me. My whole family are artists of some kind. I was exposed to all kinds of Japanese art. My great grandfather made more traditional Japanese paintings, which were like Ukiyo-e. He influenced many of my favorite artists such as Monet and other impressionists. To know that it has so much influence in the European countries, and on the impressionist movement, gives one a renewed appreciation of Ukiyo-e. “- Matsumoto

Respect for one’s divinity is a recurrent theme in Matsumoto’s work. Her painting Oiran’s glance, for example, celebrated the godliness that resides within each person regardless of their profession. Oiran were courtesans or women of pleasure who held high ranks in the Japanese floating world. In Oiran with Hookah, Matsumoto lends the figure a dignified, captivating quality, with theatrical accompaniments.

Oiran with Hookah, oil on canvas © Edi Matsumoto

“The idea of ‘Goddesses and Warriors’ came to me when I was back in Japan in 2019. I wanted to find new subjects and models. In Kyoto, I had an opportunity to get made up as a geisha and had pictures taken professionally. I told the staff that I wanted the pictures for painting and wanted to make it especially dramatic, with vivid colors to demonstrate the culture of geisha. Those paintings were significantly influenced by Ukiyo-e. In another region of Japan (Tokyo), I could wear Samurai armor.

The store owner told me all about the female warriors’ role in Japan before the Edo era. He told me that it was very common for females to be fighting then. After the Edo era, there was male dominance, which put an end to female warriors. The loudest and red one is what I dressed up in.’ – Matsumoto

These female warriors were called ‘Onna-musha’. In pre- modernized Japan, female warriors were trained in weaponry and fought alongside Samurai men in battles. They belonged to the Bushi class. The last known records of these women participating in battles were during the Satsuma Rebellion in 1877.

Spirituality and Oneness

Buddhism and Shintoism are the two main religions in Japan, but I have spent over 6 months in India, so I have an affinity to Hinduism and multiple Gods. On one hand I am a painter and a nurse practitioner but I also coach people to connect with higher consciousness. I painted White Tara and I painted Kali Ma which were commissioned and are in private collections. It’s almost impossible to paint spirituality, but as my own interpretation, as my own conduit, I found the need to paint.


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