Rui Matsunaga


23 January – 30 May 2021

Take a virtual tour of the Rui Matsunaga exhibition.

In this exhibition of the Japanese artist’s, intricate small-scale work, Rui Matsunaga raises questions about our relationship with nature.

Once you have pressed the ‘play’ button, click on the grey circles on the floor to ‘walk around’ the exhibition and the blue circles to find out more information. We recommend viewing full screen.

If you have enjoyed this virtual exhibition, please donate.

Rui Matsunaga’s influences are wide-ranging but are grounded in folklore and story-telling. Her intricate, small-scale paintings, painted in oils on plywood, are populated with a seemingly bizarre cast of characters, frogs, rabbits, foxes and mythical creatures. There are references to early Renaissance painting and print-making, Japanese scroll paintings (emakimono), especially the Chōjū-jinbutsu-giga from the 12th century and the manga films of Hayao Miyazaki, film culture more generally and cybernetics.

“I paint figures to capture a glimpse of an archetypal space so that we can contemplate our multi-dimensional and shifting realities. I believe that humans contain a deep space within where pathways open to something cosmic and beyond human.”

The apocalyptic echoes of the atomic bombs that fell on Japan over seventy years ago are ever-present in her work. These ripples of history fuse with concerns about climate crisis, over-consumption of natural resources and our ever-growing dependence on technology. Matsunaga raises questions about our relationship with nature, particularly the exploitation and eradication of other species which she counters with an animist sensibility. Rather than take our superiority over other species for granted, the artist encourages us to recognize a form of spirituality based on a respectful awareness of the natural world and our place within it.

This series of etchings by Rui Matsunaga was inspired by Durer’s famous ‘Apocalypse’ series of woodcuts, first published in 1498. In Durer’s prints, God and his angels are presented in the context of a hierarchical belief system. Everything emanates from above, light and shadow, good and bad. God’s apocalyptic, cataclysmic judgment is dispensed and the world comes to an end.

Rui Matsunaga has created an alternative ‘more ambiguous’ vision of the apocalypse. Her intention is to re-define humanity’s relationship with nature and how it might develop in the face of imminent and catastrophic climate change.

The small creatures in the work can be seen as spirits of nature and also morphed projections of our human existence exploring our poetic, fragile and sometimes treacherous relationship to nature.

In this poetic vision of reality, the imminence of death and species extinction on a global scale expands our perception of reality to encompass multiple realities, incorporating the mystical, mythological and the magical. From this meditative space the artist poses the existential question, ‘What kind of humanity would we like for the world?’

About the Artist

Rui Matsunaga was born in Japan. She trained at the Royal Academy of Art Schools and Central Saint Martin’s in London. Until recently Matsunaga lived and worked in the UK, recently returning to Japan. Solo exhibitions include the Paper Gallery in Manchester (2019), House of St. Barnabas in London (2016) and numerous group shows including the John Moores Painting Prize (2012), Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter (2016) and the Torrance Art Museum in Los Angeles (2011). Her works are in the collections of the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, University of Arts London, The Atkinson, Soho House in Amsterdam, House of St. Barnabas, and Museum of Senegalia in Italy among others.