fuyuko matsui virgin specimen
Marijn Kruijff
6 min

The Liberating Sex, Violence and Horror in Fuyuko Matsui Paintings

6 min

The hyper-realistic paintings of the Japanese artist Fuyuko Matsui(b. 1974) are mainly done in the traditional Nihonga style, Matsui’s images merge people, flowers, animals and landscapes, but these are combined into outlandish portrayals of death, violence and rape inspired by ghost paintings and rokudou-e., a Buddhist painting depicting the six realms of reincarnation. They reflect a sense of darkness and mystery.

fuyuko matsui portrait

Fig.1. Fuyuko Matsui

Make Viewers Feel That Pain

Matsui uses her meticulous painting technique to draw you in to visceral scenes of fear, worry, loneliness, pain and death. In an interview in May 2012 with the Asian Art Museum she explains, "Thinking about my own research, something really important for me is expressing things that are not usually available through visual means. For example when you look at an apple, you can see how red and delicious it looks. But pain is a very solitary sense that you cannot share with others. So my initial project was figuring out how to visually express that is usually felt physical. Then I started thinking about how to make viewers feel that pain."

fuyuko matsui ghost

Fig.2. Insane Woman Under a Cherry Tree (2006)

Painting Ghosts

Her interest in painting ghosts comes from a long lost tradition in Japanese culture, which has almost disappeared. Though you rarely see them today, the tradition of painting ghosts dates back to the Edo period (1615-1868). It was thought that when the master of the house was away, putting up a ghost painting would keep away burglars. The more frightening the painting, the more apprehensive a burglar would be about entering.  Since no other contemporary painters were working on this ghost theme, Matsui wanted to try it herself.

Violent Imagery

The violent imagery in her New Kuzosu series (Fig.3, 4 and 8) has in a way a similar function as the ghost paintings of the Edo period, in that they might act as a protection in the same manner as they did. In the 2012-interview she says, " I think if we see a woman committing suicide before our eyes, it will remove any urge inside of us. 'commit one… […] I think that by creating works that show this violence it could help suicidal people to resist these urges...[...] It's better not to oversimplify this, but basically these [images] act as talismans.."

Transformation and Liberation

In this sense, Matsui’s images share common ground with the ostensible function of early kusōzu  salvation of the one through the revelation/presentation of the grotesque reality of the other. This also reflects one side of the perennial conventional argument surrounding images of sex, violence, horror, and pornography, an argument that has also attended kusōzu: do disturbing images offer transformation and liberation to the viewer

fuyuko matsui painting

Fig.3. 'Keeping Up the Pureness ' (2004)

fuyuko matsui keeping up the pureness


Keeping Up the Pureness

The most illustrative work in the series is Keeping Up the Pureness (Fig.3). In a heavenly setting with abundant vegetation, a young woman, at the height of her beauty, lies on the ground after having killed herself. Anatomical precision and shimmering colors contrast with the eerie pallor of her skin and the blackness of her hair scattered on the floor. By reusing two characteristic colors of the ghost (black and white), the figure already belongs to the beyond, without having yet disappeared from the face of the earth.

Fuyuko Matsui Crack in the Ashes

Fig.4. 'Crack in the Ashes ' (2006) (akatako.tumblr.com)

fuyuko matsui Anatomy Chart

Fig.5.  'Fuwakezu: Dai-shichi Keitsui腑分図: 第七頸椎 Anatomy Chart; 7th Cervical Vertebra '(2007), hanging scroll-color pigment on silk, 34.6cm x 41.7cm, courtesy of Mr. Ohnawa Jun’ichi.

Maybe it's my own "Rorschach" projection but this painting reminds me of this Kuniyoshi design:...

Kuniyoshi Nailing a Dick Doll at the Hour of the Ox

Fig.5a. ‘Nailing a Dick Doll at the Hour of the Ox (Ushi no toki mairi mara ningyô o utsu)‘, (c.1836) by Utagawa Kuniyoshi

fuyuko matsui Engraved Altar of Limbs

Fig.6. 'Engraving Altar of Limbs ' (2007)

fuyuko matsui altar of limbs


fuyuko matsui altar of limbs detail


fuyuko matsui virgin specimen

Fig.7.  'Virgin Specimen ' (2009)

fuyuko matsui virgin specimen sketch

Fig.7a. Study for Virgin Specimen (2009)

fuyuko matsui The Parasite Will Not Abandon the Body

Fig.8. The Parasite Will Not Abandon the Body (2011)

fuyuko matsui The Parasite Will Not Abandon the Body detail


fuyuko matsui Becoming Friends with All the Children in the World

Fig.9. Becoming Friends with All the Children in the World (2002)

fuyuko matsui virgin portrait

Fig.10. Virgin Portrait (2010)

fuyuko matsui Scattered Deformities in the End

Fig.11  Scattered Deformities in the End (2007)

In Premium you can find an extended version of the article including detailed info on some of the individual paintings like Keeping Up the Pureness , Crack In the Ashes, Becoming Friends with All the Children in the World and more...

Click HERE for the visual study of Senju Shunga on the Japanese ghost legend Botan Doro (The Peony Lantern).

For a profound study on the connection between the kusōzu work of both Fuyuko Matsui and the important kinbaku artist Itō Seiu, and Buddhism in Erotic Grotesque Modernity the following PDF is highly recommended.

*The artist was suggested to me by the Chilean artist KerbCrawlerGhost who is a big admirer of her work

Sources: twitter.com, da-end.com, tokonomamagazine.com, tate.org.uk, funeralnatural.net,

Let us know your thoughts on Fuyuko Matsui's work in the comment box below...!!