Akai Ringo Byou (Red Appleholic) (2011) by Erina MatsuiJaPigozzi Collection
Erina Matsui (b. 1986 in Okayama, Japan) studied at the University of Art & Design, Helsinki (Finland), at Tama Art University, Kanagawa (Japan) and at the National University of Arts and Music, Tokyo (Japan). Primarily oil paintings, her works show surreal scenes that include the artist’s own self-portraits in imaginary, and sometimes distorted, dimensions.
The colourful, apparently naive compositions feature fictional characters that Matsui describes as icons, such as little animals and strange creatures that populate her canvases. The artist uses these creatures as a vehicle to reveal her inner emotions with the viewer.
Cupidity Goddess of Kannon (2010) by Erina MatsuiJaPigozzi Collection
Matsui’s works are exemplary of a strong trend amongst Japanese contemporary artists of drawing inspiration from popular culture’s palette and aesthetics. They adopted bright colours and fictional characters to create imaginary scenes, thus greatly contributed to reshaping the global perception of contemporary Japan.
This trend occurred mainly over the past two decades, influenced by the powerful Neopop artists (most notably Takashi Murakami).
Matsui stated that she has been largely inspired by the kawaii style. In Japanese, the word kawaii, meaning ‘cute’, holds in itself a wider reference to pop culture.
Piano Concerto (2009) by Erina MatsuiJaPigozzi Collection
Specifically, it related to how women’s appearance is often conceived and presented in media. The ‘cute’ aesthetics is a feature that derives directly from Japanese manga and anime (comics and animation) where the young and sweet female characters are represented as the most charming ones.
Under its innocent appearance, the concept has a much darker side which tends to objectify the images of women in a male-gazed, consumerist context. Kawaii can also expand to describe objects, such as dolls or toys, or little animals.
I'm Home (2006) by Erina MatsuiJaPigozzi Collection
In Matsui’s works the ‘cute’ elements dominate paintings such as I’m Home (2006) or Upasan (2006). Both of these artworks depict a pink, marine character with little tentacles, who looks directly towards the viewer. This type of animal is an amphibian called Axolotl (‘aquatic salamander’) and actually exists in Mexican lakes, however, it is fascinating as it evokes the appearance of an imaginary manga creature.
Ucyuu Dora Image (2006) by Erina MatsuiJaPigozzi Collection
In the majority of Matsui's work the central character is the artist herself, often depicted in a dreamy context, accompanied by fantastical creatures. For example, Ucyuu Dora Image (2006) depicts a flying sheep next to Matsui’s face, which can also be understood as an homage to the Expressionist painter Marc Chagall’s famous paintings. Meanwhile, in the work Piano Concerto (2009) Matsui’s smile becomes the keyboard of a musical instrument.
Other depictions of the artist’s face, such as Cupidity Goddess of Kannon (2010) and Akai Ringo Byou (Red Appleholic) (2011), represent fascinating hybrids that unify her features and the natural surrounding world.
Three Days and Three Nights (2008) by Erina MatsuiJaPigozzi Collection
Other important paintings show her self-portraits as distorted and exaggerated in scale. The unsettling results of this can be seen in Eye of Typhoon (2007), and Three Days and Three Nights (2008), where the artist’s face recurs multiple times against a kaleidoscopic background, suggesting an inner conflict.
Painted in an extreme close-up, the features of the face show bulging cheeks and eyes, which occupy much of the composition and appear grotesque.
Matsui’s self-portraits allow the artist to share her own imagination and the micro and macrocosm of her perspective.
By looking at these vivid works, the viewer can experience the emotions that the artist was feeling while painting, almost as if we were reliving a dream or memory.
Portrait of Erina MatsuiJaPigozzi Collection
Erina Matsui has had many exhibitions in Japan and abroad. Selected exhibitions include Fundació Joan Miró, Barcelona (2007), Künstlerhaus Bethanien, Berlin (2013), Yamamoto Gendai, Tokyo (2015), Kirishima Open-Air Museum, Kagoshima (2016), among the others; and group shows at Museum of Contemporary Art Taipei, Taipei (2009), Mori Arts Center Gallery, Tokyo (2010), Magasin, Grenoble (2011), Nagoya City Art Museum, Aichi (2014), Okayama Prefectural Museum of Art, Okayama (2019).