Chaos to the Cosmos: White Road between Two Rivers: Paintings by Ken Matsubara
"A touch of awe-inspiring wonder of nature opens a way into the sphere of primal being." - Matsubara
The echo of the wind, the sound of water, a full moon floating in a mysterious blue sky, the cries of wild beasts that agitate the ripples of the lake…Ken Matsubara’s works present a view of the universe that is magnificent beyond description. For him, the act of drawing is to resonate with nature itself.
Prior to exhibiting his “Scenery” series in New York in 2014, he took a helicopter flight that allowed him to look down on Mt. Fuji. In that moment, he realized, “although mountains are formed from the earth, it is water that sculpts them,” leading him to use flowing water as paint in the showcase.
Later, in 2019, the highlight of this gallery’s grand openingwas his magnificent series, “Kūkai.” Those who attended found themselves drawn in by the roar of the sea and the mysterious profundity of the sun and moon. The current exhibition will be his third in New York and will feature a series of work that he first showed half a century ago.
In 1975, he was twenty-seven years old and enjoyed a period of concentrated study under Sankō Inoue. Inoue once said, “It is nothing. If you are not ordinarily healthy, you will never be truly moved.” Matsubara took these words to heart after Inoue’s death, devoting himself body and soul to create the Chaos (1983) painting that is featured here.
Chaos is Matsubara’s interpretation of a Buddhist painting entitled Niga Byakudō-zu [White Path to Paradise between Two Rivers of Worldly Vice], that he first saw at Zendōji temple in Gifu Prefecture when he was nine years old, and which had remained firmly etched upon his memory. In order to find the white road, it is necessary to possess a pure heart and cast aside the sediment of life that has built up inside one’s soul, otherwise it will be impossible to pass along this narrow white road that runs between the river of water, (attachments and greed) and the river of fire (anger and hatred). It was with this in mind that he confronted the twelve panels that comprise this work, a masterpiece through which he prayed for tranquility and purged himself of all the chaos that had accumulated within him. Like Picasso’s Guernica, it presents a tempestuous maelstrom of emotions and raging flames, but in between these, an indistinct, cloud-like, pure, white road emerges.
His later works are filled with a quiet, peaceful atmosphere. One characteristic theme of his works is “sound” which is expressed through a round motif. They possess an exquisite vibration that becomes as one with the cosmos, expressing the healthy spirit that Matsubara craves and which plucks at the viewer’s heartstrings.
Over the last fifty years, Matsubara has confronted the various events that have occurred to him with sincerity, faithful to all he meets, while continuing to express himself on white paper. “The fate of my works is definitely affected by people’s encounters with them.” Perhaps Matsubara’s white road will continue without end.
Ippodo Gallery is pleased to present Chaos to the Cosmos: paintings by Ken Matsubara, in conjunction with Asia Week New York 2022. The exhibition is more than a retrospective; it is a culmination of four decades of artistic exploration and personal reflection. Starting with the artist's earliest years, the result is a daring showcase that delves into the deepest corners of spirit and self, honoring the individual experience as much as the philosophical journey to serenity.
From his earliest works, the artist hovers on an aesthetic and interpersonal precipice, consciously or unconsciously awaiting his spiritual awakening. The youngest in a family of five sons, Matsubara's unanswered questions and humble origins led him to spend hours of reflection at the local Buddhist temple, where he found solace in its sounds and philosophies. From the temple echoes to the teachings of the monks who surrounded him, Matsubara developed a foundation, a grounding, in the beauty of nature.
At just nine years old, Matsubara was inspired by a scroll at the temple (now at the Nara National Museum) depicting the Niga Byakudō-zu—The White Path to Paradise Between Two Rivers of Worldly Vice.
The righthand river was full of flames and beasts representing life's darkest desires, while the left raged with turbulent waters. On the eastern bank, the voice of the Sakyamuni Shaka Nyorai says, "Go," while the Amida Buddha on the western bank says, "Come." In the middle was always the white path to serenity, where one must choose to walk the narrow white line to enlightenment.
"Only through Buddha's guidance could one escape the sins and cross to the far bank," Matsubara writes, "The chaos in their hearts being transformed into the harmony of cosmos."
In 1983, at 35, Matsbuara's returned to these themes with Chaos, a staggering twelve panels at 1100 x 180 cm (433 x 70.86 in). When Matsubara began to paint, snake-like veins of flames and spraying water fought the battle of Matsubara's internal demons until he finally broke free and achieved the true mental harmony to which he has always aspired.
The inflection point of Chaos was marked by the passing of Matsubara's teacher, Sanko Inoue, in 1981. Matsubara had only begun apprenticing at 27, in 1975, but was deeply inspired by Inoue's evocation of impressionist and abstract masters from the West, particularly the influence of Guernica by Pablo Picasso.
Inoue encouraged Matsubara to prioritize wellness for his creative process, once saying to his apprentice, "If you are not ordinarily healthy, you will never be truly moved."
The universality of both internal and external conflict has been communicated through scrolls since the times of ancient Buddhist priests but holds a timeless message of integrity and strength in the 21st century. During these COVID-19-ridden years, the gentle sounds of nature hold the power to unify and protect us from the Chaos, and to remind us to keep well.
Matsubara himself always paints outdoors, regardless of the weather, charged by the colors of daylight. He uses materials from the honored mountains, colored earth, and flowing rainwater to bring nature to life for the later works on view.
With the Sound series begun in 1981, Matsubara visited his brother's temple in Imajo, Fukui prefecture, and began working with the circle motif, marveling at its cyclical perfection. The series's namesake draws from the mesmerizing sound he first heard in the temple, which continues to guide the work today just as it has for close to three decades. The significance of the sound presented with the circle motif is that Matsubara draws circle motifs in the background of almost all paintings.
After a fruitful meeting with Japanese ceramic historian and great teacher Seizo Hayashiya when Matsubara was a seasoned master of 62, the Matsubara designed and painted Sound artworks in Hayashiya's tearoom.
The circle is also present in the Kukai series. Matsubara recalls the journey of a Japanese monk (the priestly name is also Kobo or Koyo Daishi) who retreated into the caves of Muroto Cape at the Southeastern tip of Shikoku, exiting to behold the breathtaking sun and moon rises in the same place every day against a rocky ocean horizon and a starry sky.
Struck by the majesty of their permanence, the monk later named himself 'Kukai' (774 – 835), for the 'air (Ku) and 'sea' (Kai), completely synonymous with his excursions into nature. His story resonates so much with Matsubara that the artist even revisited Kukai's exact spot to experience the same sensation.
The Kukai series in Ippodo's exhibition honors sound as it represents eternity, the perfect order of the cycles. As the silver light of the moon shimmering through the darkness, waxing and waning with the sun, so too does the heart and its desires.
Matsubara's retrospective is a great affirmation of life. Because as preoccupied as he is with the greater expanse of nature, so too is he concerned with the works' relationship to the viewer. When encountering these otherworldly manifestations, viewers should come to realize our own truths, our own paths, and our own spiritual journeys. They should awaken our memories and echo in our souls, reminding us that nature is in perfect order no matter how chaotic our world may appear.
And like the turbulent rivers of the Chaos, like ourselves, like the virus we fight, nature is constantly changing.
Opening Reception - Wednesday, March 16, 5 - 9pmChaos to Cosmos: White Road between Two Rivers 16 Mar 2022Special Opening Reception NEW YORK- Ippodo Gallery welcomes you to Chaos to Cosmos: White Road between Two Rivers, Paintings by Ken Matsubara. Please join us and the artist to celebrate this monumental exhibition. The Japanese tea ceremony (茶道, sadō or chadō, lit. 'the way of tea' or 茶の湯, chanoyu) is a Japanese tradition steeped in history. It is a ceremonial way of preparing and drinking green tea From 6:00 - 7:45 Ken Matsubara will be kindly serving matcha to a limited number of guests. Please sign up for a...Read more