Ken Matsubara -Painting Wisteria-

Painting ‘Wisteria’


I have been using sounds as motifs for my work for over forty years, so it has been quite a while since I painted an actual subject.
Last year, I received a pair of old, two-panel, gold, folding screens from a friend of mine who works as a paperer and I remembered that I had previously promised Ms. Aono of the Ippodo Gallery, that I would paint her a picture of ‘wisteria blossom.’
When I was young, I had been captivated by an illustrated folding screen I saw at the Nezu Museum. It had been painted by the artist Ōkyo Maruyama and depicted wisteria blossom. I remember thinking, ‘One day I will do the same…’
This desire had been stored away in a drawer, hidden deep in my memory and it was Ms. Aono who opened that drawer—she is a genius at opening drawers.
The same was true of the late Seizō Hayashiya.
When he was still alive, he said to me, ‘Ken, the Rinpa School is addictive.’
I asked if it was really that dangerous and he replied, ‘No, it is just too engrossing.’
I have to agree.

In preparation for this work I went to look at a local wisteria trellis, but it was not what I was looking for. That was when I remembered having seen numerous wisteria when I visited Shojinzawa in Tochigi Prefecture.
I set out early one morning, it was too late in the year to see the flowers, but there was a large vine growing next to a deep pool in a stream flowing down from a spring, that caught my eye. It seemed to stretch up in a spiral from the ground towards the sky, like a dragon.
Its weight had caused the tree it had grown up around to fall to the ground a rot, its roots becoming covered in moss and giving birth to new life.
It displayed the energy and cycle of life in its most primitive form.
The shape of the tangled vines, appearing through morning mist, combined with the smell of the moss to allow me to experience a feeling of ecstasy, as if I had wandered into a different dimension.


Ken Matsubara



This folding screen, decorated with a wisteria motif, is not by the famous, eighteenth century artist, Ōkyo Maruyama, but was painted by Ken Matsubara.
The stem and vines have been applied to the gold background as if using single brushstrokes, while the pendulous flowers seem to sway lightly in the breeze, resembling light pouring down from the skies.
In his youth, Ken Matsubara was a great admirer of Sankō Inoue and went on to become his last student, producing works on the abstract theme of ‘sound’ using deisai pigments without a brush.
His works include Gesshō (Moon Sound), Kei (View) and recently his Kūkai series.
In 2019, the highlight of the opening exhibition for the new venue of the Ippodo Gallery New York, was a series of twenty-four sliding screen paintings from his Sky, Sea, Sun and Moon series, which filled the entire gallery and created a unique image of the universe.
Three or four years ago he shyly showed me a photograph of a pair of folding screens decorated with a motif of cherry blossom and maple that he had painted at the request of the tea master, Seizō Hayashiya. The painting had been created in the style of the Rinpa School.
As soon as I saw it, I said, ‘Can you paint me a picture of wisteria?’
Wisteria is my favorite flower. Be it the Japanese traditional dance, Fuji Musume (Wisteria Maiden), the wisteria in the Chinese brocade of a Noh costume or the trailing clusters of wisteria blossom on a trellis, I find them all too beautiful for words. However, the wisteria created by Ken Matsubara’s is different and seems to draw us into a world of hazy, mysterious profundity.
It entices us into a distant world of subtle profundity.
In late February he took me to the forest of Shojinzawa where he had found the stem and vines featured in this picture. It was a place of overflowing springs, where numerous wisteria grew on the trees beside the river.
One wisteria had wrapped itself around a large tree that had later disappeared, leaving the wisteria stem growing in a spiral form. There were wisteria plants resembling vast snakes or dragons growing throughout the area. In the past, Ken Matsubara had seen the famous painting of wisteria by Ōkyo Maruyama leading him to search not the blossoms but the stem of the wisteria and when he finally discovered it there, in that forest, his eyes doubtless shone with enthusiasm like a young boy’s.
This is the background to the Ippodo Gallery’s ‘Ken Matsubara Paints Wisteria’ Exhibition. If the late Seizō Hayashiya could see the Cherry and Wisteria and this Wisteria Blossom folding screens, what would he think? I think it would probably be something like, ‘Ahem, the Rinpa School is addictive!’

Keiko Aono