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Utamaro print showing


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MATSUBARA Naoko (born 1937)


Matsubara solitude Matsubara kanji Matsubara Naoko (松原直子) was born in 1937 in Tokushima Prefecture, Shikoku, an island on the Inland Sea. Her father became the chief priest of the Shintô shrine Kenkun jinja, Kyoto (see below). She graduated from the Kyoto Geijutsu Daigaku ("Kyoto University of Applied Arts") in 1960 and then studied at the School of Fine Arts, Carnegie Institute of Technology, Pittsburgh, where she received an MFA. She also studied one year at the Royal College of Art, London. She lives in Ontario, Canada.

One of the most important influences upon Matsubara's work was Shiko Munakata, a preeminent artist of 20th century Japanese printmaking. In 1962, after she sent him some of her woodcuts for his examination, she received a long letter praising her work, noting, among other things, how unusual it was for a woman in Japan to create works of such weight, mass, and intensity. Like his own work, he sought and admired powerful and expressive art that brought forth "life" from "within" the woodblock. Much of Matsubara's work exemplifies a forceful style of carving the blocks that is reminiscent of her predecessor's work. Although she has designed many images in color, her monochrome or limited-color prints are especially indicative of her understanding of the power of the woodblock. She speaks herself about the need to summon up personal strength and maintain physical health in order to produce works that possess clarity and freshness.

Among Matsubara's various portfolios is a set of 11 prints entitled "Solitude," published in 1971 and designed to accompany an essay from "Walden" by Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862). There is also a woodcut portfolio cover design of Walden Pond. The title print is shown on the right, signed and titled in pencil, with the red artist's seal reading Naoko Matsubara. This impression is an artist's proof (A/P). The image measures 352 x 283 mm on paper with sizable margins. The design exhibits a vigorous carving style, but the angularity familiar in the influential works of Munakata as well as in some of Matsubara's own prints is attenuated here by the curvilinear motif of a willow tree in black and its reflection in dark green. The result might be seen as an expansion of the Munakata style and expressionist woodcuts (which Matsubara cites as another important influence), filtered through her own vision and appropriate for the subject. Certainly the intention is to express the stillness and quiet reflection that is a main theme of Thoreau's essay.

The Kenkun Jinja was built in 1880 by the Emperor Meiji to commemorate the general Oda Nobunaga (1534-1582), the first military leader to attempt to unify Japan at the end of the Warring States period. The shrine was first located on a slope called Funaokayama ("Boat-hill Mountain"), so named for its shape, but it was moved 30 years later to the summit. The image below is a very large print from 1977 whose image size measures more than 2 feet in width (the total image is 690 x 495 mm), signed and sealed 'Naoko Matsubara', titled Funaokayama kenkun jinja ("Kenkun Shrine, Funaoka Hill"), and numbered 42/50. Matsubara has depicted a lively array of forms cut energetically into the oversized block, offering multiple perspectives as the viewpoint shifts and turns. To focus on the details is to appreciate the energy invested in the design, yet to step back and view the whole is to observe the balance among the different pictorial elements. Underlying it all is a sense of peacefulness. © 2001 by John Fiorillo

Matsubara kenkun jinja


  • Baker, J. Mokuhan: The Woodcuts of Munakata and Matsubara. Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, 1976. Matsubara, Naoko: Kyoto Woodcuts. Tokyo: Kodansha, 1978.
  • Smith, L.: Modern Japanese Prints 1912-1989. London: British Museum Press, 1994, pp. 30, 56, and no. 75.
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