The Beauty of
Empty Spaces

The Beauty of Empty Spaces

Fascinated by Leonardo as much as by the ancient Japanese masters, painter Fuyuko Matsui told us about the essence of Japanese art, resulting from the harmony between rigorous outlines and empty spaces


uyuko Matsui is one of the most original and interesting young artists on the Japanese art scene. In the tradition of Nihonga art, which is based on age-old techniques and materials and deeply rooted in the national culture, Fuyuko creates works with a very strong emotional impact, based on powerful subjects and personal themes, and even connected with her psychoanalytical path.
Loss, violence and mutilation - but also love, desire and passion - are some of the feelings that inspire her paintings, often provocative and yet delicate and quintessentially Japanese. Originally from Mori, in the Shizuoka Prefecture, Fuyuko has exhibited her works in several important galleries and museums in Tokyo and Japan, as well as in in Paris, Sweden, and San Francisco (with the group exhibition "Phantoms of Asia" at the Asian Art Museum).

After studying oil painting, you switched to traditional Japanese painting. Why?

FM: I chose to dedicate myself to oil painting when I was still a child, without hesitation. It was only later, while attending the Tokyo University of the Arts, that I began to be interested in other artistic forms, including Japanese sculpture and painting. When I discovered the work of Japanese artist Hasegawa Tōhaku, a National Treasure, I was literally swept away. I realized that his Shōrin-zu byōbu (“Screen with Pines”) was just as amazing as Leonardo's Mona Lisa, and that I was deeply rooted in that kind of art, so beautiful and emblematic of Japanese culture. There and then, I decided to switch from oil painting to traditional Japanese painting.

What kind of a child were you?

FM: Oh, I was a tomboy! I used to play outside and draw for hours, until my mother called me to order.

When did you decide to dedicate yourself to art? Was there a precise moment?

FM: When I was nine years old, I remember being struck by the enigmatic gaze of a reproduction of the Gioconda hanging in the library. Back home, I said to my mother: "I want to become like Leonardo da Vinci!". Sometime later, comparing the earlier works of Pablo Picasso with his more mature ones, I remember thinking: "Being a painter must be cool!".

What is it that fascinates you about Japanese art?

FM: In addition to emerging from the outlines, which enclose rigor and harmony in a single stroke, the beauty of Japanese painting also lies in the empty spaces defined by them.

Leonardo da Vinci
for me he is a mentor,
a model and a rival
to overcome "

You had a solo exhibition in Paris and are currently exhibiting your works in Sweden. Did you notice any differences between the way the Japanese and Europeans perceive and experience art?

FM:In Paris, amongst the visitors were ladies who stopped by at the gallery on their way back home from shopping and began discussing about the works on display like true art critics, showing a strong artistic sensibility.
In Sweden, we even had families with children come visit. In the Nordic countries, art is part of everyday life, and a crucial element in children’s education.
In Japan, on the other hand, enjoying art is deemed a solemn and refined experience, and certainly not something that is part of your everyday routine. It is extremely rare to see children at exhibitions, and there is a strong distinction between art lovers and those who are not interested in art. However, if someone has an interest in art, then it manifests itself in the form of a totalizing passion, by virtue of which they one is even willing to stand in line for five hours under the scorching summer sun, just to be able to enjoy a much-coveted exhibition.

Where do you draw inspiration for the themes and motives of your works?

8 FM: Most inspirations arise from conversations, even the simplest ones.

Which artists do you feel influenced by?

FM: Leonardo da Vinci, whom I consider a mentor, a model, and a rival to overcome.

How's your typical day? How much time do you spend in the studio?

FM:I spend a lot of time in the studio. And not just drawing, of course. On the contrary, I spend most of the time trying to focus and concentrate on ideas. My most prolific moment is between midnight and two a.m.

What do you do to relax?

FM: I like taking a hot bath, or even better a hot spring bath.

How do you like to spend your free time?

FM: I practice sadō, the tea ceremony, to purify my spirit.

Which places in Tokyo would you recommend to a someone who’s never been there?

FM: Definitely Ueno Park. In addition to the zoo and the cherry trees, it includes six major museums to visit: the Tokyo National Museum, the National Museum of Western Art, the National Science Museum, the Museum of the Tokyo University of Arts - which is also the largest academic center for artists in Japan - and the Mori Museum of Ueno.

What’s your secret for dealing with everyday life?

FM: Every day is a challenge, isn’t it? My motto is “always aim towards your goal and never fear failure”. This does not mean that you should be foolhardy or inconsiderate, but rather that you should not let all the ineptitude and anguish that surrounds us paralyze you.

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