Review: Look closely. With Keita Matsunaga's ceramics, there's more than meets the eye
The striking installation of ceramic works at Nonaka-Hill makes Keita Matsunaga’s interest in architecture immediately apparent. The artist has set his sculptures on shelves at different heights within a metal scaffold, playing their hand-built organic forms and earthen surfaces against the structure’s angularity and uniform industrial material.
That binary opposition, visually arresting as it is, ultimately gives way to a deeper, even more provocative conversation between the two fields that Matsunaga has worked in and studied. His ceramic sculptures engage the same fundamentals as architecture: site, function and the shaping of space. The works in his first U.S. show are enrapturing.
Most within the large installation resemble pods or husks, some small enough to rest in the hand, others more than 2 feet wide. The walls of the vessels curl together but do not seal, leaving irregular openings to the dark voids within, and giving the impression of objects emptied, spent.
Surfaces are richly varied — some humble, muted in tone and rugged; others smooth and vibrantly color-saturated. Matsunaga uses glazes, photo decals, discarded ceramic rubble and urushi (sap from the lacquer tree) to create textures and effects that blur the boundary between tradition and invention.
The work here is made with with acute sensitivity to place. In one case, clays sourced from different locales are layered, their different compositions yielding a stunning surface with fine vertical fissures like woodgrain cracked open by fire.
The ceramics-making area of Tajimi, Japan, where Matsunaga lives, and the Center for Contemporary Ceramics at Cal State Long Beach, where he recently spent a month in residence, both assert themselves — visually and materially — in astonishing ways. Photographs of one locale become the skin for an object made in the other; discards become repurposed, honored as generative. Photographs made near Matsunaga’s Japanese studio are printed on rolls of vinyl that hang from the metal scaffold and scroll to the floor, where they serve as background context to the sculptures on view as well as physical foundation for several pieces placed upon them.
Matsunaga marries material, concept, form, process and representation with unusual vigor. The vertical stripes on one solid upright monochrome piece are actually a photographic image of the light and shadow on a corrugated wall. One pod-like work looks delicately inked with indigo lines, but the veins are actually photo-decals of one cracked vessel, fused to another.
The self-referencing and cross-referencing operate on multiple levels at once, captivating the eye, electrifying the mind and rousing the body to a heightened awareness of space.
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