ArtWay Visual Meditation April 15, 2012
Meditation on Art Work of Yuko Matsuoka By George W. Gish, Jr.
「On the Way to Emmaus｣ 2011, oil, 116.7 x 91.0 cm. Luke 24: 13~35
In the hours and days following the death of Jesus on the Cross, the followers of Jesus were filled with confusion and disillusionment mixed with fear and unbelief. After their own leader, Peter, had denied their Master three times in his hour of greatest need, the other disciples had gone into hiding behind locked doors, cowering in fear .
The account of the first Easter morning at the end of Mark’s Gospel tells us that it was three women who had followed Jesus and ministered to him from the early days in Galilee, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, along with Salome, who had the courage to bring spices to anoint him in the tomb that morning as soon as the sun had risen. But they were 「amazed｣ to find a young man dressed in a white robe and sitting on the right side of the tomb. When he instructed them to tell the disciples that Jesus would be going before them to Galilee where they would again see him, the women 「went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had come over them; and they said nothing to any one, for they were afraid.｣
However, the final chapter of Luke records that when the women finally reported all this to the apostles, 「these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.｣ With the main characters overcome with fear and doubt, the scene then shifts to that moving passage when two of the lesser known followers of Jesus depart that very day for the village of Emmaus, about seven miles away, or roughly 12 kilometers, which would take some four hours to reach by dusk. We are told that one of them was named Cleopas, but that is all we know of them.
In describing her work, Yuko Matsuoka reflected that when the two disciples met Christ on the way to Emmaus, they did not recognize that the person journeying with them was the one who had just been crucified. Then later, when they were at table with him, as he took the bread and blessed, then broke it, they recognized him and said to each other after he vanished out of sight, 「Did we not feel our hearts burn within us when he talked to us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?｣
Matsuoka explained that since she had been painting the sky or heavenly universe for years with dramatic colorful clouds and stars, as the place where God reigns, she wanted to depict the special evening time at dusk as the scene for the first appearance of Christ to his two disciples.
When working as an interior designer with the Junzo Yoshimura Architectural Design Office in Tokyo after returning from art studies in the United States in 1962, Ms. Matsuoka was told by Mr. Yoshimura, 「your taste in colors is very attractive, so you should become a color coordinator.｣ She recalls that her fondness for the color blue was influenced by a lecture on medieval art history given by the late Dr. Donald MacKenzie that referred to the special blue colors of Chartres Cathedral. 「I was moved deeply by imagining the heavenly blues of Chartres, then completely overwhelmed by the original colors when I could finally visit Chartres in person.｣
We notice that the sky in 「On the Way to Emmaus｣ covers more than half of the canvas in expressing the very moment of the first appearance of Jesus to his disciples. Although it is dusk, Matsuoka hints at the dramatic sight of a new dawn with rays coming down from Heaven while one disciple is pointing to Emmaus in the distance. For Matsuoka, the bright orange around the disciples reflects their burning hearts, while the pinkish hue expresses the warm atmosphere surrounding the three persons. Both colors are repeated in the glow of the evening sky, which vibrate against the deep blue light bursting down from above, as a precursor of the coming day on the road to Emmaus as seen in the distance, where the Risen Christ will always be with us along our own humble journeys in the daily acts of blessing and breaking bread in the midst of all our human sufferings and struggles.
Although Jesus is surrounded in light, Matsuoka explains that there are no scars on his hands, for at this moment the disciples did not yet notice that the person is Jesus. All of the figures are small in comparison with the overall landscape, which is a common practice in traditional Japanese landscape paintings. This leaves us with the striking effect of light breaking out from above like a spectacular display of Aurora Borealis or polar lights, with the human figures seen in a more humble perspective in relation to the magnificence of God’s Creation.
As we can see in 「On the Way to Emmaus｣, the works of Ms. Matsuoka make use of deep translucent colors that vibrate with heaven-like tones, filling the viewers with hope and a spirit of calm that reflect her own Christian faith. In spite of many misfortunes and hardships since her early childhood, Matsuoka has been able to inspire and uplift others facing despair and loss of hope with her works that depict the transcendent presence of God’s love as revealed in the mystery of Jesus who is always present in the midst of our weaknesses and trials.
In spite of all the confusion, fear and uncertainty following the triple disasters of the massive earthquake, destructive tsunami and nuclear reactor meltdown that struck simultaneously one year ago in Japan, the encounter with the Risen Christ as depicted by Yuko Matsuoka can give us hope for renewal in the power of the Resurrection.
(End of Meditation)
Note: Yuko Matsuoka is one of the important Christian artists who have provided leadership in the Japanese Christian Art Association (JCAA). She has also served as past President of the Asian Christian Art Association as well as other roles in promoting international cultural exchanges. (Note: Please refer to attached profile below for more information.)
You can find more about the works of Yuko Matsuoka by visiting her home page at: www.yuko-matsuoka.com
Note: The author of this meditation, George W. Gish, Jr., is a long-time resident of Japan, having served as a United Methodist missionary for over 50 years in the fields of education, communications, community and church work. His involvement with the Japan Christian art world has extended over 40 years, along with continuing research and teaching in his specialties of ethno-musicology and cultural history which include widely acclaimed efforts to keep alive such endangered music forms as the classical biwa (lute) tradition of Japan.
For the past three years, he has served as Vice Moderator of the National Christian Council in Japan.