On 16 April 1914 Paul Klee noted in his Hammamet diary, “Happy hour (…) color possesses me: I don’t have to try and catch it. This is the meaning of the happy hour: color possesses me for always, I feel it. I am a painter.”
This happy feeling of symbiosis among color, matter, light, sound, their being one with gesture, line, touch of the hand, body of the artist, evokes the work of Shuhei Matsuyama. It is a symbiosis which is splendidly expressed by one of the principles of the so-called “creed of the Samurai” (which can be appropriately cited in reference to someone, like Matsuyama, who is also a martial arts master): “I have no eyes; the light from the flash of lightning is my eyes”.
It is only with very particular meaning that one can refer to “abstractism” for this artist, with the meaning in which spiritual and material, the sphere of perception, are identified. “Sensitive abstraction” is perhaps the most appropriate term for the art of this Japanese master.
The history of western art tells us how the spirit, in the west, is prevalently dressed in external, illustrative images of the divinity: spirituality has worked on the physicalness of the images, while giving them an often complex symbolic value. At its root is the Greco-Roman model, tied to the representative search of the figure, of the human body.
In 787, the second council of Nicea opted for iconoduly, the cult of images, impeding expansion of an incorporeal, disincarnate spirituality oriented toward pure construction of a morphology and aesthetic of the spirit, like that which took place in music. It was Kandinskij, in 1910, with the first abstract watercolors and drafting of the text On spirituality in art, who completely interiorized spirituality as an absolute value, theorizing a coming together of images and musical statutes, thus giving a new direction to western art.
Matsuyama, upon arriving from Japan, seems to have immediately grasped the importance of Kandiskij’s heredity which he grafted onto the problems and expressive characteristics of his culture of origin with great sensitivity. Therefore, a deep search on a spiritual level but, in the footsteps of far eastern thought, never free of the perceptive universe, that which Nietzsche defined “the great reason of the body”. Even Leonardo knew how to gather, in his opinion, the deep spiritual meaning of the human body which makes it impossible to depict it following purely material and figurative parameters: “if you paint a human body, do not paint the contour or the volume; the human body is something else”. Thought? Light? Sound?
Thus, Leonardo overcame the problem of the presence or non-presence of the human body in works of art: the human body becomes vibrations, spiritual and material essence all together, not able to be completely represented by a “figure”.
Matsuyama makes it possible for the body of the artist and of the spectator to identify themselves with the light-color-line-sound complex, which does not represent the human body; it does not make it present in the form, because it is already present, not visible but tangible, in the symbiosis with these same elements. The body is present in that it is the matrix of the painting.
In order to obtain this, the artist uses, in a very poetic way, an element that Roland Barthes counted among the principles of Japanese culture and expression: the skill of touch. A line or memory of the hand, through which the body intervenes on the material, which makes the material listen to its consistency and weight.
In Shuhei Matsuyama we have a departure from pure visibility to attain synaesthetic values: a vision-tactility-sound harmony.
The insinuating line, clear and cutting or softly shaded, which runs through the works of our artist is generated by a delicate drawing-writing gesture, and its ambivalence reminds us in a way of the pictorial aspects of far-eastern calligraphy, and in another, of the origins of western thought: platonic graphèin, the “trace” of the hand that shapes images and together articulates meanings.
It is a line that flows and creates space, or awakens it, in an original co-presence of abstraction and tangible vibration. Perhaps it is the same line that outlines the unrolling of a Makimono or Kakemono, Japanese painted silk panels. It is a line that gives the idea of time and movement to the sphere of the senses, to become irreversible, completing its infinite path through a canvas and prolonging itself into another in an almost ritual process of “different” repetitions. It is not so much a variation on a theme – that of listening to the interior sound – rather than innumerable variations which “create” the theme, following an ever various rapport between line and color, intent on visualizing the idea of sound. Indeed, for Matsuyama, every object, experience, corresponds to a sound, not to a name.
In his works, the importance of the canvas and paper is fundamental in that they are bendable materials, symbols of the labyrinth-like perceptive continuum of life which bends and folds in infinite creases and pleats.
In his lovely book The pleat. Leibniz and the baroque, Gilles Deleuze, rereading Leibniz, looks again at his continuum theory as that which does not fragment into pieces but wraps in an infinity of pleats. The labyrinth of the continuum is not a line that can be divided into numerous independent points, like sand disperses as grains: instead it is like a sheet of paper or a piece of fabric which can be folded into ever smaller pleats. The matter-pleat is the matter-time, and it is the matter-life due to its organic, almost “muscular” structure: the matter-fold is, therefore, the matter-body. But the matter-body is also the matter-thought: consider Hèrodiade by Mallarmè, defined by Deleauze as the “poem of the pleat”, in which the yellow fan of Hèrodiade is spoken of with the bold metaphoric expression, “yellow pleat of thought”. Also for Matsuyama the matter-thought identity is valid; macrocosm-microcosm, in a perennial circulation of energy which the unfolding of his lines represents.
The ideal genetic element of variable curvature which characterizes the unwinding of the line in Matsuyama is inflexion, that which Paul Klee indentified as an elastic point, placing it at the beginning of an active, spontaneous, living line. In this aspect the Japanese artist is closer to Klee, and farther from the Cartesian Kandinskij for whom a point is hard, placed in movement only by an external force.
The matter-pleat is matter-time, it has been said: the curvature of the line which continues into infinity is form of becoming, of time. But an event, in oriental culture permeated by chan and zen of Budhism, is also that which apparently does not involve a happening, a passing, it is also something that can appear inanimate like a rock: also rocks “must be alive” it says in the Teachings of painting of the Garden which is big like a grain of mustard. All the treatises on classical oriental painting insist on the need for good circulation of the vital energy or respiration (ki).
A good painter must know how to also bring the ki out of a rock. In fact it is this unlimited circulation of energy which seems to suggest the tension created by overlapped horizontal bands in the paintings of Matsuyama. An overlapping which is reflective as well: the reflection of one band in another. The image is also a double, a reflection. The Latin language expresses very well a way to feel and think according to which even the reverberation of a sound is image: consider “cuius recinet iocosa nomen imago?” of Horace.
The image that infinitely varies the semblance of its own structure, in Matsuyama’s art, evokes that unique universal ki which is different in different beings.
The infinite unfolding of the line renders the work completely open, allusive to the unlimitedness of nature, and to the impossibility to define it in a definite way.
Thus, the painting becomes a vehicle for a holistic experience which informs us about the relational character of the universe, on its connective structure, and its interdependence between infinite things-events, making it like a network of crystals.


by Silvia Pegoraro