How Tomokazu Matsuyama Appropriates Images to Create Fine Art

A behind-the-scenes look at the Japanese artist’s process.

Arts  
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Tomokazu Matsuyama is a Japanese contemporary artist who lives and works in Brooklyn, NYC. Matsuyama is widely-known for appropriating traditional Japanese icons, street art motifs, and American pop culture imagery in his paintings. With these various references, he intends to trigger conversations about self-identity, diversity, and the impact of globalization. “I want to portray the culture that we live in and to do that, for me, is to make a mashup of what makes our time very unique,” he said.

He starts each artwork with an abstract background, then begins to sketch subjects from Edo Japanese and American traditions. Utilizing explosive acrylic paints on canvas, he and his assistants meticulously color in each detailed illustration. Each one of these paintings would take three-to-four months to finish. Moreover, they are all done by hand and are not collaged or digitally printed. If there is a mistake in the painting, the artist or one of his assistants will buff it, repaint it, and make it look perfect.

Although the term “appropriation” may have a somewhat of a negative connotation, the artist tells us that he is paying homage, rather than stealing from the creators of works that he appropriates. “In fine arts people say appropriate. To use an existing image. There’s sampling, appropriation, and copying,” he said. “Copying is using someone else’s image and saying it’s yours. But sampling or appropriation is that you pay respect. I sample and use resources that are extremely public or extremely old.”

Watch our studio visit alongside an exclusive video with Tomokazu Matsuyama above. Elsewhere in art, Virgil Abloh recently revealed the painting that inspired Louis Vuitton’s upcoming “BOYHOOD” campaign.

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