Japanese multi-media artist Ryota Matsumoto creates hybridized art that combines traditional mediums like acrylic and graphite with digitally rendered computer algorithms. His central thematic concerns focus on the relationships between architectural structures, human perception and the space time continuum.
Viewed as a whole, Ryota’s artistic output is a study in dialectic tensions and the innovative synthesis that results from these tensions. Added to that is a metaphysical sense of viewing forms from a theoretical 4D environment that have been compressed into a 2D format. All the information is there albeit in a heavily compressed format that invites you to try very hard to imagine what you are really looking at if only you could decompress the data.
I was lucky to catch up with Ryota to exchange some thoughts about his art:
Jonathan: Hello Ryota… pleasure to be talking with you. Before you take us all on the inter-dimensional odyssey that is your artistic output, perhaps you can tell me a little bit about your background as an architect and how that correlates to your art.
Ryota: Hello Jonathan, Thank you so much for having me and giving the opportunity to talk about my work. I was born in Tokyo and spent the better part of 70’s living in Hong Kong.
During the 1990s, I studied at the Architectural Association in London as well as the Mackintosh School of Architecture, Glasgow School of Art. I received my Master of Architecture from the University of Pennsylvania in 2007.
During my undergraduate studies, I acquired basic draftsmanship skills. I also learned to work in acrylic, ink and etching. During that time, I also benefited from taking courses on the history of modern art. I only got to know about all the digital techniques like generative art, 3D visualization and parametric design much later, while in the graduate school.
Having spent most of my formative years in late 70’s Hong Kong, I witnessed first-hand the exuberant development of the city and its urban infrastructure. Without a shadow of a doubt, the incentive to study architecture was the result of having witnesses firsthand the surge of the creative energy focused upon building up a thriving global city during that time.
Needless to say, my over 20 years experience of practicing architecture and urban development has influenced my work and their themes considerably.
I believe the two primary aspects of creating art are intuition and one’s personal experience and individual background. In my case, my previous experience played a pivotal role in my creative process and inspiration.
With most of my work, I am inspired by the symbiotic relationship between people and architecture in contemporary and/or future urban settings. I aim to capture snapshot images of rapid changes of cityscapes. I achieve this by depicting various structures in their respective process of assembly and disassembly – or birth and decay to lean on a more organic analogy.
I always consider that the primary characteristics of cities and urbanism can be well-represented by the dichotomy and contrapuntal relationships between organic and inorganic variables, clearly defined geometric shapes versus amorphous ones, as well as the variance of scale between small and large objects.
In my artistic output, I strive to harmonize these seemingly opposing elements. The goal is to explore innovative ways to integrate these incongruous factors with each other – to morph these individual and seemingly irreconcilable elements into totally new structures that push the boundaries of conventional notions of space/time as applied to structures. The other aspect of my art is my continued interest in the interaction between two-dimensional and three-dimensional space. This often involves an interplay in the juxtaposition of objects of varying scales that co-exist in the same space and time. So I always apply the techniques of architectural drawings to bridge the gap between architecture and art and transcend or merge those two realms depending on the theme that I’m working on.
Jonathan: You mention above (and I quote): “With most of my work, I am inspired by the symbiotic relationship between people and architecture in contemporary and/or future urban settings. I aim to capture snapshot images of rapid changes of cityscapes. I achieve this by depicting various structures in their respective process of assembly and disassembly…”
There is a lot of information in that sentence. Perhaps you can elaborate on a few points: How would you qualify the relationship between people to architectural structures? This, in itself, is a very broad question due to its scope and complexity. There are many relationships between different groups of people and various structures. My question is this: what are the types of relationships (and functions) between people and structures you are most interested in and how do you explore that in your art?
Ryota: I don’t usually depict people in my work, so people tend to be observers or more appropriately onlookers of their urban milieu, which is more or less self-existent within the paintings, but not completely as a separate entity. To some extent, people participate through looking at the paintings, so they could find an existential connection with whatever that may exist within the work. The physical arrangement of building elements, changes in material properties and varying degrees of porosity among objects are always the focal points of themes in my work. I am fascinated by constantly shifting spatial configurations of cross-temporal structures. These reflect socio-cultural realms of our built environment and I like to focus on that aspect of architecture. I still believe the activity of people in today’s society – specifically their interaction with architecture, are present in my work, albeit inconspicuous. I would venture to say that this reflects the fact that we in an accelerated culture wherein we are not as visible (in conventional sense) as we were a hundred years ago.
Jonathan: You say that you are interested in depicting snapshots of contemporary and future urban settings in constant flux as old structures are torn down and give way to new ones. Your art seems to me to be aiming not so much at a snapshot of a singular point in time, but rather a composite snapshot of that process unfolding over a period of time, but then paradoxically distilled into a single 2D frame. Is that a correct assessment?
Ryota: I think so. The paradox, contradiction and warped imagery in our perception toward space and time has been an constant subject of interest among artists and authors since Surrealism in its early days and it is still an intriguing theme to explore today.
Jonathan: Tell me more about your vision of the future… It seems to me that the vast majority of your work speculates about how space time might look from a 4th or 5th dimension and how that would ultimately radically alter perceptions of 3D physical structures and how we relate to them. Your goals in this regard remind me of the plot line of the film Interstellar where space/time becomes a navigable structure – a tesseract (a four dimensional analogue of a three dimensional cube). Any thoughts on structures, dimensions and the space time continuum as you see these things interact in the future?
Ryota: For the time being, I have investigated and expressed the spatio-temporal conditions of our multidimensional existence within the confines of the hybrid medium (specifically human draftsmanship integrated with computer algorithms) in a two-dimensional setting. Since I don’t see myself as necessarily confined being a traditional 2D artist, there might be the myriad of possibilities to integrate my work with interactive media, site-specific art and possibly sound art, not to mention architecture, which is the source of inspiration for the artworks in the first place.
Jonathan: You state above: “The physical arrangement of building elements, changes in material properties and varying degrees of porosity among objects are always the focal points of themes in my work. I am fascinated by what exactly defines varying degrees of porosity.” What do you mean by “varying degress of porosity”?
Ryota: The varying degrees of porosity is really meant to be for more intangible and metaphysical side of materiality…the mutual containment or interpenetration of materials which can be applicable to all phenomenaoften represented by eastern thought.
Jonathan: While it is true that the surrealists – Ernst and Magritte certainly, but especially Dalì – delved deep the metaphysics of space/time, these artists utilized realism as a departure point to explore this theme. They depicted their metaphysical surrealistic fantasies in an oddly realistic or perhaps “convincingly plausible” environment for lack of a better term. Their paintings (granted less so with Ernst) – however surreal – are populated by recognizable features painted realistically: people, structures and what have you.
Your work is something altogether different. I’m consistently left with the sense that I’m looking at something that cannot be fully actualized in 2D… or even in 3D. It’s like the data- a combination of looped algorithms and human “hands on” intervention with traditional medium ultimately arrive at a depiction of a structure functioning in a space that is 4D, and what we’re looking at is a compressed and thus distorted vision of what that might actually be. Is this how you see your own work?
Ryota: I think what I attempted to do with my work is equivalent to the momentary displacement of the fabric of time effectively achieved by Coil with their album, Time Machine, some work of Burroughs or the sustained drones of La Monte young (and his cohorts). I tried to go further with this concept and added space in addition to time.
Jonathan: Tell me a little bit more about chance versus wilful execution or intelligent design and the tension between the two in your work. If I understand correctly, the computer program you use to generate a certain aspect of the final product is customized. Did you write/customize the software specifically for your art or are you using software customized for architectural purposes? And what about the more traditional “hands on” mediums like graphite and acrylic. Is there a teleological reason why you utilize the computer combined with more traditional methods? It seems that both modes of intervention are intrinsic to the final result.
Ryota: I got used to this workflow and am more at home with this approach as we usually started out with hand-drawn drafts and refined them through CAD and 3D modeling software as a designer. However, I like to instill less digital, more analog warmth to my work as an artist. That is where the more traditional approaches come in. I use custom software mostly to process images so that two painting techniques blend in well and look more integrated as a more unified whole rather than ending up looking like an awkward patchwork. I have incorporated a generative process for generating certain forms sometimes, but most of pieces begin with sketches and clear-cut concepts as to what I’d like to achieve in the final stages of each piece.
Jonathan: Speaking of chance versus controlled variables… I notice that this tension seems to be an underlying preoccupation with you… I note that some pieces are titled by cutting up stanzas of Mallarmé’s “A Throw of the Dice Will Never Abolish Chance”. I was so thrilled by this surrealist method of quasi-automation that I followed your process in coming up with the title for this interview. I know from spending a great deal of time on your website that you have incorporated many other literary references in your work. Can you tell me more about them?
Ryota: I used to call most of my early work untitled-1, 2 etc… which sounds rather lame to me, so I thought it might be much more interesting to come up with actual titles, which are not necessarily associated with artworks. So they are more or less separate entities standing on their own. I collect all the fragments of words from different places and piece them together as my work moves along. Most of them go through cut-ups and I often use writings of Dada and Surrealist writers or even technical terms of music compositions to generate new titles. As you’ve pointed out, I took a couple of verses from Mallarmé’s poem as well. If the combination of the title and image evoke a particular mood or setting for the viewer, that is most likely what I intended in the first place.
Jonathan: There’s also the aspect of transferring sound into a visible pattern… a structure. I’m thinking here of “Shortwave Crackle Booster” and “Multi-Cellular Vortex Field”… can you tell me more about who and what inspired the idea of communicating sound as a visual piece of art? I know Kandinsky use to do this, but you list other influences. Tell me about them, how they influenced you, and your own vision of sound as a material construct…
Ryota: It came from my penchant for the electro-acoustic and experimental music of early- to mid-20th century.
I am always intrigued by the experimental composers’ approach in which the boundaries between electronic and acoustic sounds tend to be blurred. I am especially attracted to this notion of merging and juxtaposing seemingly irreconcilable or contradictory elements of sounds that could range from electrically generated sounds, field recordings and traditional instruments sounds. This approach often transcends aforementioned boundaries and alters our perception of music in a profound way. I gather we could apply the same formula to visual art.
Jonathan: How does your art look in a live setting? What is the scale of the prints? You mentioned earlier the possibility of viewing your work as part of a larger installation… Any closing thoughts about your future trajectory as an artist?
Ryota: No matter what medium I use, my art is mostly processed digitally in the final stage of the creative process. That frees the work from the confines of conventional mediums. It could be transformed into a 3D-printed installation or even converted into audio signals. I think the possibility is endless and I prefer to stay open-minded as to how to present the work in both present and future.
Jonathan: Ryota, thanks so much for taking the time to talk about your art… wonderfully thought provoking.
Ryota: Thank you very much.
You can view Ryota’s surreal structural distortions (not to mention interesting bits of information about the art) here: http://ryotamatsumotostudio.blogspot.ca/