Review: Rui Matsunaga at The Atkinson
Open until 5th June 2021
Words, Louise Heys
This free solo exhibition is the first at The Atkinson, to focus on the work of contemporary artist Rui Matsunaga. The exhibition presents a body of work that grew upon the influences of folklore and storytelling, mythologies, early Renaissance, and her Japanese culture.
Born in Japan and trained at the Royal Academy of Art Schools and Central St Martin’s in London, her practice demonstrates small-scale intricate paintings populated with a bizarre cast of mythical creatures, frogs, rabbits, and foxes in dystopian landscapes.
Rui responds to debates around how we can re-define the relationship between nature and humanity and developments in the force of imminent catastrophic climate change. There are several recurring motifs which at this time of a global pandemic, resonate with the viewer. A discarded Tesco bag is caught on a tree in several paintings. Skulls are a chilling recurring symbol. A sharp reminder of our mortality.
The delicate oils on plywood are loaded with symbolism for an enquiring viewer. Feathers, fossils, and animals bound with red string are challenging yet so beautifully executed you find yourself staring in awe at the delicacy of the flora and fauna in the landscapes.
The Etchings are inspired by Albrecht Durer’s famous ‘Apocalypse’ series of woodcuts 1498 but Rui has a more ambiguous vision of the Apocalypse. In these beautiful works the small creatures are represented as spirits of nature. ‘What kind of humanity would we like for the world?’
The outstanding work is small-scale oil on plywood, On the Moon (2019) recently purchased with grant aid for The Atkinson collection. It is inspired by two Renaissance works and features a sundog, an atmospheric phenomenon where a bright spot appears to one or both sides of the sun. An omen, a symbol of judgement.
The exhibition is on display at The Atkinson until 5 June and can also be viewed as a digital exhibition on The Atkinson’s website.