interview with takesada matsutani

Takesada Matsutani in Paris, 2019. Photo by Michel Lunardelli with image courtesy of the artist and his studio.

Takesada Matsutani (born 1937) is Paris-based visual artist. He was a member of the prominent Gutai Art Association from 1963 until 1972. The artist has exhibited his work through numerous international solo and group exhibitions since 1962 and he is a recipient of many international art awards. Recently Matsutani exhibited at Hauser & Wirth, New York (2022); Hauser & Wirth, Hong Kong (2020); Les Abattoirs, Toulouse (2020) and Centre Pompidou, Paris (2019). Artist’s artworks are found in major art collections across the globe such as Centre Pompidou, Paris; Institut National d’Histoire de l’Art, Paris; STOA169, Polling; Tōkyō Museum of Contemporary Art; Victoria & Albert Museum, London; Dallas Museum of Art; Minneapolis Institute of Art; Guggenheim Abu Dhabi; Long Museum; Shanghai Art Institute and others.

LUCIJA ŠUTEJ: How were you first acquainted with the Gutai Art Association? Perhaps we could talk of your entrance into the art world?

TAKESADA MATSUTANI: Gutai was not in the capital, Tokyo but near to Osaka, which were then far apart. It was a long trip back then. Gutai was in Ashiya, a very traditional area outside Osaka. Close to the town is also Kobe, where there were at that time many artists.

I started to paint in my childhood and there was influence on my work from movements like Cubism, Surrealism and so on. I just learned from art books and catalogues. And through learning my mind started to change and to be more creative. My mind is my idea of freedom.

I first saw works of Gutai movement in the early 50s. Yoshihara wanted to do new things in art. Not to copy but make artworks always new. And I was very interested in this idea and that is how I approached Gutai. Artists from Gutai Art Association were people who were 10 years older than me and at that time, I was about 20 years old. I first participated in Gutai movement in 1960 and I became a group member in 1963.

LŠ: And how did you first meet Jiro Yoshihara, the co-founder of Gutai Art Association?

TM: I first met him through a Gutai artist, Sadamasa Motonaga, and he asked if he could show my work to the group. He also introduced me and my work to Jiro Yoshihara. Yoshihara said that my work is quite interesting but that it is not enough to just create. He said: “You have to do it again and look for the new”.

Matsutani with Jirô Yoshihara on the occasion of Matsutani’s first solo exhibition at Gutai Pinacotheca in Osaka, 1963. Image courtesy of Takesada Matsutani and his studio.

In 1962, I was interested in somewhat an organic image and in flat canvases but with three- dimensional works. By chance I started to use a special glue called vinyl glue and that was for me something very interesting and organic. I would throw the glue on the canvas on a nice clear but windy day and leave it to dry. The wind made it half dry and there was dripping similar to shapes found in caves. It was interesting to see these forms create three- dimensional shapes. But the wind was too much of a chance, so I started using a fan or a hair dryer. Following the drying process, I would try to make a shape. Sometimes I would start shaping the material in half dry state, as the vinyl glue is very soft and based on water.

When the water evaporates the vinyl is still wet so even today I use a straw and blow air into the glue and in this form, I create shapes. After this experiment, I saw Gutai members again and they found my work interesting and suggested we work together. There were a lot of movements from Europe to Japan, back and forth. I was aware of new things and ideas. Gutai wanted originality!

La Porte, 1964. Image courtesy of Takesada Matsutani and his studio.

LŠ: What are your most memorable exhibitions with Gutai that influenced your practice as a young artist?

TM: With Gutai we did shows in department store’s floors. They gave us the space in Osaka. Yoshihara wanted to make a frontier with a port or entrance. I still have the picture of it. That was in 1964. And my first solo show with them was in 1963 and it was very important for me.

LŠ: When did you join the Stanley William Hayters Studio?

TM: That’s interesting question! In 1966, Institut Franco-Japonais in Kyoto, supported by the French government, offered through a local newspaper a scholarship for young artists to study in France for six months. I sent my application with my passport and I stated I would like to do paintings with glue. I came to Paris in November of 1966 and did not understand the language. I could read newspapers via the pictures. The government asked me where I would like to work and I said no to Beaux – arts and no to the Sorbonne. But, I would study French.

Fortunately, I met a Japanese sculptor and as I spoke a little English he suggested we go on a trip through Europe together via Greece and Italy back to Paris. We visited many museums and at some point, I thought what am I doing, I must go to work! I joined Stanley William Hayter Studio in 1967 thinking I could practise engraving and continue my vinyl work at the same time.  He was very nice and as I did not speak any French and a little English, all I did was work. I also met my wife to be Kate, there and we stuck together like glue.

When I started engraving there was a print boom – Ljubljana Biennial, Triennial in Krakow, Biennial in Bradford, so many. I sent my works to all the biennials. I still have their catalogues from 60s till now. Ljubljana was a very important centre.

Matsutani at Atelier 17 with Kate Van Houten (2nd from the right). Image courtesy of Takesada Matsutani and his studio.
Matsutani with Hayter at Atelier 17 in Paris. Image courtesy of the artist and his studio.

LŠ: What print technique did you find most interesting in that period?

TM: I immediately began engraving. Hayter loved the line the burin made and he passed on to me his passion for it. The lines print so black! I did some viscosity printing, – Stanley William Hayter’s contribution to contemporary printmaking, but I really loved engraving. We have calligraphy called Sumi (sumi ink) that requires similar pressure to paper. I did a lot of drawings and paintings with graphite as well and I still do them. My wife had a serigraphy studio, where I also worked.

KATE VAN HOUTEN: Yes, I had left the Hayter’s studio because of my image. I felt I needed a different technique although I returned later to engraving. But I started this screen-print studio with a friend and Matsutani became interested in what we did. He would ask: “How did you do that?” So, I showed him and then he took over the entire studio! It was very good because he did some very experimental work by putting together silkscreen and etching.

TM: I also did photo-serigraphy.

Matsutani creating Sun Rise (Silkscreen on offset paper - 65 x 50 cm) in his Montparnasse studio in 1973. Image courtesy of artist and his studio.

LŠ: With your serigraphy studio did you work together with other print workshops around the globe?

KVH: We worked at one point with Pratt. The studio was a good place, we had the freedom to work long hours. Later that studio moved twice. But Matsutani got sick from serigraphy, cleaning products and stopped.

TM: The printing made me ill and a Doctor said if I continued it would be bad news.

KVH: But he let me continue. (laughter)

TM: I stopped.

LŠ: How do you see the role of calligraphy in your work?

TM: In calligraphy of course, character is important. And Sumi calligraphy is based on water. I do writing by myself!

KVH: You also have a question about calligraphy.

TM: Yes, calligraphy or non- calligraphy. Calligraphy and art are never together but always parallel.

LŠ: What do you mean by non – calligraphy?

KVH: Well, let me first preface this. For the Japanese, their vision of calligraphy is not the same as in Europe. And I think that to understand the point of view of a Japanese, it’s not a simple story. It’s because of the language. Calligraphy in China or in any country that uses characters, this is the written word. And for a European, he does not see calligraphy in the same way. We don’t see the action, we see the beauty of it and we see the result. But we don’t see the word. And for them, calligraphy is attached to the word and so there is constant discussion. What is calligraphy?

TM: In calligraphy, your mind is consolidated not the heart. The breathing is controlled and movements are of chance. We do not see the border between calligraphy and non- calligraphy, but you feel the beauty and always trying to find something new.

LŠ: Your work is very much marked by unique research into the properties of material. Has your approach changed over time?

TM: The approach changed over time to an affirmation, but I didn’t change. I have some trust in my imagination and which is what I believe. It is beauty that I can’t explain, but I just do it. Materials have personality that I shape. My material is glue.

LŠ: And the material feels as if it is somehow unattainable? Constantly driving you to do new work.

TM: Always new and always experimenting! Always growing and evolving. I work the material with purpose and some kind of duty to beauty. Glue has a certain quality.

LŠ: If we can end the interview on a light tone – what kind of films do you like to watch?

TM: I do not watch many movies but I like cowboy ones. Films with Clint Eastwood.

LŠ: What is your favourite book?

TM: In Praise of Shadows by Jun’ichirō Tanizaki.