Keita Matsunaga

December 7, 2019 - January 25, 2020


Los Angeles Times, January 15, 2020
Art Viewer, January 14, 2020




Nonaka-Hill is pleased to present new ceramic works by Japanese artist Keita Matsunaga in his first solo exhibition in the United States. The exhibition is on view through January 25th, 2020.


Born in 1986, Keita Matsunaga describes his generation as one which is concerned with all kinds of ideas of repair, renewal, remix and reuse. Citing major earthquakes and complex global concerns, the artist has incorporated this contemplation into the materials, processes and surface techniques of his sculptural ceramic practice. Another influence is architecture.


Matsunaga was raised by ceramic artist parents in Ichinokura, a town known for sake cup production in the ceramic industry region of Tajimi, Gifu. Ichinokura’s makers have long faces significant production and distribution obstacles; a limited supply of local clay forces reliance on clays brought in from elsewhere, and the town’s narrow streets prohibit passage of large trucks. The town’s production of sake cups and small ceramic wares can be understood as an adaption to these conditions.


Matsunaga left Ichinokura to study architecture, eventually finding work in the studio of the prominent architect, Sou Fujimoto, whom the artist cites as a major influence. According to Matsunaga, Fujimoto “asks the big questions” of the fundamental concepts of architecture. So, when Matsunaga realized that he was better suited for a life working in ceramics, he returned to Tajimi with an architect’s tendency to scrutinize the site conditions as a means to find inspiration for the project at hand. Of course, history informs architectural and ceramic decisions, as well.


The artist explains that the shape of a bowl evolves from the primal human action of scooping water with two hands to nourish oneself. The invention of the bowl allowed humans to share nourishment between people and must have had an immeasurable effect on the development of human communication. In Japan, the role of the tea-bowl in the high-art of tea-ceremony illustrates this point to an extreme. Matsunaga’s tea-bowls are covered with urushi (lacquer), which hasn’t been seen on ceramic bowls since the Jomon Era, from 9,000 to 3,000 years ago. Urushi was replaced by glaze, which is more efficient to produce, and urushi was relegated to a repair material for ceramics, used only as the crack-filler for kintsugi (gold leaf) repairs. Matsunaga finds significance in the use of a repair material as full surface coverage for his teabowls, while at the same time renewing a Jomon practice. Matsunaga has remarked that his urushi color choices recall the ornate and colorful Kunitani-ware (aesthetically opposite of Jomon) of Kanazawa area where he studied ceramics. Another personal association for Matsunaga’s bright colors may be a childhood-memories of swimming in rivers polluted by glazes dumped from ceramic factories, changing the river’s color day-by-day with unusual color combinations. The show’s largest work, from his “Void - surfaced with caution orange urushi that’s been muted black.


Matsunaga finds equivalence between the physical act of making architectural models and of making ceramic sculpture; the object can be imagined in scales beyond itself. Similarly, Matsunaga’s shell-like “Void” works possess an undeniable exterior object-hood, so their title “Void” can only provoke contemplation of the object’s mysterious, perhaps infinite, inner-space. Some of these “Void” works utilize “ordered-in” clays from various sources, rolled into thin sheets and loosely layered. When fired, these different types of clay react in opposition to each other, creating fissures. Some of these works are fired in barley husks which To display works which were made in Japan, the artist designed a multi-tiered metal scaffold, draped with digital photographs printed with intense color saturation onto vinyl rolls. The images bring the artist’s Japanese studio environment into the Los Angeles gallery; dappled light through a window, stains on a kiln plank, a rusted corrugated metal studio wall, and views of broken glazed ceramics by many contemporary makers accumulated into a landfill. The works on view in the gallery’s central space were created during Matsunaga’s recent residency at Cal State University Long Beach’s Center for Contemporary Ceramics, invited by the program founder, artist Tony Marsh. To begin these works, Matsunaga mixed bits of broken, glazed ceramics from the CSULB studios’ waste-bins, studding the new, moist clay and formed sculptures. He applied photographic glaze decals with images from his Tajimi environs; his rusted metal studio wall and images of the Tajimi ceramicists’ community landfill of broken glazed ceramics. Upon firing, the B&W photographic images adhered to the forms’ surfaces and the chips’ glazes reactivated, bubbling up from within to appear like splatters on the surface. Photographic images of broken clay enveloping a form of unbroken clay invokes the reflexive surrealism of Rene Magritte, while another comparison can be made to the Japanese Mono-ha artist, Koji Enokura, whose painting objects picture repeated stains, transported via silkscreen process, conflating object and image to uncanny effect. At the same time, the artist has drawn two ceramics communities together on one object – thoughtfully combining the material of the form with the treatment of the surface.


Keita Matsunaga (b. 1986, Japan) works in Tajimi and Kani in Gifu Prefecture, Japan. He studied architecture at Meijo University, Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture and subsequently studied ceramics at Tajimi City Pottery Design, Tajimi and Technical Center and Kanazawa Utatsuyama Kogei Kobo, Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture. He has had numerous exhibitions in Japan including solo exhibitions at Tondo, Kyoto (2019); Pragmata, Tokyo (2016, 2019); Nihonbashi Mitsukoshi Main Store, Tokyo (2018); Utsuwa Note, Saitama (2016, 2018); Meguro Togeikan, Mie (2017); and group exhibitions at Paramita Museum, Mie (2019); SHOP Taka Ishii Gallery, Hong Kong (2019); Gallery Voice, Gifu (2016, 2018); Ichinokura Sakasuki Art Museum (2017); Nihonbashi Mitsukoshi Main Store, Tokyo (2016, 2017, 2018); Ginza Mitsukoshi, Tokyo (2015, 2016, 2017), Sokyo, Kyoto (2017); 21st Century Museum of Art, Kanazawa (2015); and Espace L’Une, Paris (2015). Matsunaga also has been selected for the 11th International Ceramic Exhibition, Mino, Gifu (2017); and he won the Encouragement Award at the 72nd Kanazawa Kogei Exhibition, Kanazawa (2016); selected for the 23rd Japan Ceramic Exhibition (2015), won the Encouragement Award at the International Itami Craft Exhibition, Hyogo (2014), and won Grand Prize at the Takaoka Contemporary Craft Competition, Toyama (2013). His work is in the permanent collection of The Museum of Ceramic Art, Hyogo.

Installation Views