Artist interview: Toshio Matsumoto

Was ‘pop art’ a term used by yourself or colleagues or was there a different terminology that referred to a new figurative art movement in the 1960s and early 1970s?

At the time, we understood pop art as a new movement which was represented by artists such as Warhol, Lichtenstein or Wesselmann. There were discussions about the boundaries between pop art and concept art or kitsch; however, I have never heard of any other term being used.

Did you ever consider yourself (now or in the past) a pop artist?

I have never thought of myself as a pop artist and have never been called a pop artist. However, it is surely possible that it stimulated and inspired my work.

Did your work engage with current events in the 1960s and early 1970s?

Thinking about the core of art in the 1960s–70s, it is important to remember its historical background and the fact that there was an overwhelming paradigm change of viewpoints, feelings and values. Naturally, pop art also participated in creating this turning point and I think it opened up new horizons. The relationship between pop art and my works from that time can be seen in different forms, for example in the multilayered appropriations of posters, commercials and popular songs in For the Damaged Right Eye 1968; in the manga speech bubble scene and the fragmented mixture of slapstick-comical elements and quotations in Funeral Parade of Roses 1969; the introduction of Japanese pop art and its diverse intermixture in Space Projection AKO, The Expo’70 Textile Pavilion 1970, that I conceived as the director general of the pavilion; or in the interaction of Duchamp and techno pop in Metastasis 1971.

How did you choose the subject matter for your work included in The World Goes Pop?

There were three motivations for creating Mona Lisa 1973. Firstly, Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa came from the Louvre to Japan. As an ironic reaction against the extremely exaggerated response to this, I wanted to create a delusionary image of this super-famous person, referencing Andy Warhol’s portraits of famous people. Secondly, around that time, the electronic image synthesiser Scanimate from America had been introduced to Japan. Researching how to use it, I found out that with this device it had become easier to combine pictures, photographs, films, CG or television images – images that differ technically – on one screen. Therefore, concrete images for works as well as ideas for their compositions came to my mind continuously. Thirdly, I received a message from Nam Jun Paik and there were more and more artists that worked with the new medium of video. In 1974, the Museum of Modern Art in New York organised an international exhibition and conference entitled Open Circuits: The Future of Television, which was devoted to the medium of video; they invited me to come to America and asked me to create a new work.

Where did you get your imagery from (what, if any, sources did you use)?

It was a collection of different pictures, photographs, magazine images, film images and CG material that I created myself; however, as this is more than forty years ago now, I don’t remember the details.

Were you aware of pop art in other parts of the world?

I knew a little bit about what was going on in America and the UK from art journals. However, the first time that real works of pop art came to Japan was in 1974 when the Daimaru Department Store in Tokyo organised an Andy Warhol retrospective solo show.

Was commercial art an influence on your work or the way in which it was made?

I have never particularly admired commercial art; however, I sometimes get fresh inspiration from its intuitive sense to visualise directly the trends and feelings of an era.

Was there a feeling at the time that you were doing something important and new, making a change…?

I think it was right that while echoing the big changes of the 1960s and 1970s, I always tried to fight against psychosomatic rigidity. This mindset has basically not changed to the present day.

Was there an audience for the work at the time – and if so what was their reaction to it?

There were not many people, but a few earnest regulars and the number of new people also increased. Their reactions were diverse, and ranged from ‘This is difficult’ to ‘I am moved’ but I remember vividly how people would discuss passionately after seeing the works.

Looking back at these works, what you do think about them now?

Nothing in particular that would need to be mentioned.

September 2015