Mary Jo Matsumoto works across a variety of mediums including oil paint, ceramics, and bronze. The repeating motifs of women, ocean life, and mythology that she developed during her 14-year career as an accessory designer now intertwine and unfold in her paintings and sculptures. Her realistic portraits seek to convey the inner world, particularly the untold stories of women. The unseen world is something she attempts to address in all of her work, regardless of subject matter. Recently she’s been painting on round canvases because of the healing reference to the eternal cycle of life as we emerge from the effects of this past year.
Mary Jo lives in Laguna Niguel, California. When not making art, she interviews inspiring painters, sculptors, and curators at her site, FoxandBunny.net. She was born in Fort Benning, Georgia, and grew up in California. Graduating from U.C. Berkeley, she received an MFA from New York University Tisch School of the Arts. She ran her own company as a handbag and fine jewelry designer before pursuing a career in the visual arts. Mary Jo began studying drawing, painting, and sculpture at the Art Students League of New York in 2015. She studied at Angel Academy of Art in Florence, Italy, and returned to study sculpture and painting in NYC from 2018-2020. Her bronze Sphinx won Best in Show in the 2019 Art Students League Bronze show and her white bronze sculpture, Dove, won an Honorable Mention in 2015. Her work has been featured in Georgette Magazine, LINEA: Art Journal, and Classiq.me.
My work this year has been about exploring the idea of untold stories and the inner world, particularly of women. I’ve been making paintings and drawings of people, water, and animals since I was a child, with internal stories to go along with the fairytales I read. I went on to study Greek mythology in college. To me these stories feel very close to the dream state; they are nonlinear, poetic, violent, filled with strange creatures, and bigger than life. In many ways, re-reading the Odyssey just before the pandemic happened influenced my paintings. The fall from grace, unwise decisions, and struggle for redemption dramatically played out in the news while I painted. I think that examining the human condition can reflect our secret fears and desires. I find that despite training classically, I’m still pulled to experiment with different mediums and ways of applying paint. I’m equally inspired by abstract as well as figurative artists and look to art history constantly as a treasure trove that fuels my imagination.
What does “Gaze” mean to you & how do you connect it to your work?
The concept of “Gaze” is very personal to me. I wrote my honors thesis at U.C. Berkeley about women in art and how the male gaze has shaped art history and the role of women in art as well as affected the work of women artists. We are now living in a golden age of female artists where one-woman shows that would’ve been ridiculed a decade ago are happening at major museums and galleries around the world. It’s a time in portraiture where women can look the viewer straight in the eye with an unflinching stare, whereas in the past only the very wealthy or those of the lowest level of society were allowed to do so in art. I also believe that the inward gaze is often the most emotional and often the hardest to convey. My work this past year has dealt with both kinds of gazes, outward and inward, in an attempt to capture the unseen internal world present in both. “Woman in a Beer Can Hat” is a graphite portrait of a dear friend. I wanted to show both her fearless nature with an unflinching dead-on gaze but at the same time glimpse a more vulnerable elusive quality that is hard to put into words. “The Pandemic” is a painting of a nurse in overwhelm during the worst moments early on in the pandemic. Although her gaze does not meet the viewer’s eyes, I wanted to convey her inward state of mind. “In the Forest” is a portrait of a friend who moved to the forest during the pandemic. These pieces, while very different, speak about the power of “Gaze”.
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