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  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 8, No. 1, 2009
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Robert J. Lewis
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sculptor in the crosshairs

Ken Matsumoto
reviewed by


Given the natural balance and easy interdependence of his materials (glass, marble and stone), one would think that Ken Matsumoto had his roots deep in Buddhism where harmony is all -- but not so. He was raised a Catholic. Deeply committed to telling the truth in his work, form usually follows function in the shape of vessels representing a state of being. “I see the objects as metaphors for the idea that man and nature are one, that the results of man’s activity on the environment are as much a part of the natural order as the effects of wind and water.”

© Ken Matsumoto

Matsumoto, who received his MFA in 1983 from San Jose State University, has been working with stone slabs, glass, steel and concrete since 1976. “I use these materials to conger images of nature and man, of time and erosion in objects that were free standing as well as wall hung.”

© Ken MatsumotoHis first commission in 1985 entailed a public project for the city of Sunnyvale, California. Entitled “Kneel,” it’s an impressive monolith that boasts four tons of cast concrete and river rock. His 1992 Japantown gateway sculptures that were commissioned by the city of San Jose consist of integrated steel tube pedestals. An ensuing project took him to Sacramento in 1994 where “2 Rivers” was born; over 1500 lineal feet of steel rail fencing suggesting rivers.

Matsumoto took on a new direction in the Arizona State University Tempe project. “3 Benches” necessitated the designing and fabricating of the machinery to be used in the work’s creation, which required 30 tons of Arizona sandstone. “Font” followed in 1995, dedicated to the Lumbee River in North Carolina; it stands six feet tall, inspired by the deep darkness of the river. Exquisite pieces of deeply embedded gold suggest reflections of stars on water.

By 1996, Matsumoto was in need of a larger studio, and moved into his current space. But a year later a fire next door to his studio/gallery nearly destroyed his establishment and work. “Thankfully, no harm came to any of the artwork,” recounts the sculptor. “It would have been years and years of work destroyed.”

© Ken Matsumoto

Prior to the fire, he had been considering discontinuing the gallery due to costs, poor sales, time required to manage the space and book exhibitions, all of which were a drain on his artistic output. But “the potential of the gallery and studio mirrored my own creative potential and energies,” so Art Object, the name of Matsumoto’s gallery, continues to be a going concern.

It is a very large space divided into smaller rooms that serve as exhibition spaces; small, intimate cubbyholes that include strategically placed sofas. The rebuilt hallway, where the fire took its toll, is larger than before and grants better visibility to the current exhibitions of Los Angeles painter Mark Bryan and San Jose’s Terry Kreiter, whose sculptures are a welcome change.

© Ken MatsumotoMy favourite room is entitled “Grotto,” whose black walls and strategic lighting are the perfect setting for Matsumoto’s smaller, intimate pieces: exquisite vessel shaped objects inside layered window glass; crude rocks sit atop carved out silken smooth surfaces balancing on twiggy legs.

Long a favourite of San Jose, Ken Matsumoto is the recipient of the coveted Silicon Valley Fellowship Award for Sculpture. His work is found in major collections: the cities of San Jose and Sacramento, Hitachi Corporation in San Francisco, Apple Computer in San Jose, Hewlett Packard in Palo Alto, to name but a few.

© Ken Matsumoto

Ken Matsumoto continues to work both sides of the fence juggling large public projects and delicate studio sculptures. He mentioned offhandedly that he recently came into possession of a load of paraffin wax, and that he’s intrigued to no end with its translucent quality.

To find out where this might lead and what exhibitions are currently running at Art Object Gallery, visit Ken’s website at:


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