Matsubara Naoko was born in 1933 in Tokushima prefecture, Shikoku (a large island in the Inland Sea southwest of Osaka). Raised in Kyoto, the daughter of a Shintô priest at the Kenkun Shrine, she graduated from the Kyoto Municipal College of Fine Arts (1960). It was there that she was taught to carve directly into the woodblock (à la Munakata Shikô) without first sketching a drawing to paste down and serve as a guide for carving. She also studied paper cutting, leaf printing, wood and lino cutting, and bamboo carving, as well as traditional sumi ink painting. Matsubara next relocated temporarily to the U.S. where she received an MFA from the Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh (1962), exploring lithography, collage, painting, and woven hangings. Then came a year in the Department of Graphic Arts, Royal College of Art, London.
The admiration that Matsubara feels for the inimitable Munakata Shikô (1903-1975) comes in part from a shared aesthetic and technique. Munakata said of her work, "I have tasted both surprise and joy. That is, in this great work there is no trace of sluggishness or hesitation in the dextrous handling of the knife.... I don't see any works [by other artists] which so continuously, profusely, and furthermore, so powerfully bring to life the entire surface of the block."1 In fact, like Munakata, Matsubara does indeed use the entire block. She considers the kentô (registration marks cut into "margins" of the wood surface in traditional Japanese printmaking) "a waste of wood." She has also said of her work, "I need great strength, great physical health to arrive at clarity in my mind for a new work. That is the most difficult and the most challenging part. Each new work must have a freshness and meaning --- or it should not be made"2
Matsubara's prints and paintings are in numerous public and private collections, including the British Museum, London; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC; Library of Congress; Cincinnati Museum of Art; Philadelphia Museum of Art; Boston Public Library; New York Public Library; Detroit Art Institute; Brooklyn Museum of Art; Sackler Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA; Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (de Young); Seattle Museum; Worchester Art Museum; Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto; Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia; Haifa Museum, Israel; and National Museums of Modern Art in Kyoto and Tokyo.
Matsubara's Nô Dancer exhibits the "strength" that she requires when carving her woodcuts. In the introduction to her Kyoto Woodcuts, Jugaku Bunshô (寿岳文章 1900-1992) wrote: "Matsubara saw ... that Kyoto was really the eternal home of Nô, she felt it in her heart, totally experienced it; and the accumulation of all these things in her generated this one work of art... In this print the most intense élan vital is expressed as a moment of extreme stillness. That is the spirit of Nô.3
The Nô actor is wearing a mask for the role of Shôjô (猩々 or 猩猩), mythological creatures with human faces but with red, hairy, ape-like bodies. Their voices sounded like the crying of babies, and they could understand human language. Overzealous in their fondness of saké, they are often depicted as inebriated in ukiyo-e prints. There is a Nô play titled Shôjô and kabuki characters based on the legend.
Although the edition size is not, in itself, especially small, impressions of Matsubara's woodcut are difficult to find forty years after its creation. A detail of the design was used for the dust jacket for Kyoto Woodcuts.
- Joan Stanley-Baker, Mokuhan: The Woodcuts of Munkata & Matsubara. Art Gallery of Greater Vistoria, 1976, pp. 19-20.
- Stanley-Baker, ibid., p. 21.
- Naoko Matsubara, Kyoto Woodcuts. New Yor & Tokyo: Kodansha, 1978, quoted from the unpaginated introduction.