Lynn Matsuoka is famous for her uncanny ability to capture people quickly and accurately in scenes that very few ever get to see. She prides herself on becoming “a fly on the wall” while documenting her subjects, but Matsuoka’s work is anything but inconspicuous.
The Bridgehampton artist studied art and music at Temple University in Philadelphia and the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan. She got her start in fashion illustration and court reportage for major television networks, but it was Matsuoka’s love affair with Japan that led her to the success she enjoys today. “I discovered Sumo and didn’t come back for 37 years,” she said, explaining what sparked her best-known work.
Matsuoka was fascinated by the ancient Japanese sport of Sumo wrestling and through persistence, luck and some inside contacts, she was able to access and document the inner-sanctum of the Sumo stables, where few people, let alone Americans, are able to go.
“Nobody has done what I’ve done before,” Matsuoka said. She described herself as fully committed to capturing the beauty and expression of Sumo, and it wasn’t long before people took notice. Her revealing drawings and paintings are a balanced combination of expressive marks and perfect rendering that contain a truth somehow not possible in a photograph.
“It’s not done superficially,” Matsuoka’s husband, and possibly her biggest cheerleader, Keith Barker said of her work. “I live with it,” Matsuoka added, noting that her first husband, Tora Matsuoka was a Sumo champion. They had two children together, restaurateurs Tora, 30, and Jesse, 26, the men behind Sen and in Sag Harbor.
Matsuoka also entrenched herself in the world of Kabuki theater in Japan, and, like her experience with Sumo, she was able to get behind the scenes where only a privileged few have been admitted. The artist has used her work to get at the heart of all kinds of cultures and subcultures, including hula dancing in Hawaii, Major League Baseball, Native American dance and most recently, the theater.
“I need something to do every day,” Matsuoka said, explaining that she is happiest when drawing. “I document people in action,” she said. “I’m the fly on the wall with the pencil. My only requirement is people ignore me.”
Since returning from Japan and moving to Bridgehampton full time three years ago, Matsuoka has been looking for the next great subject. She has done a large series of equestrian-related pieces documenting polo and horse shows, and she plans to begin a collection of large-scale portraits. Matsuoka said she’d also love to return to court reportage, but her biggest goal is to document theater, television and film productions behind the scenes.
She recently returned from a two-week stint in London drawing 10 hours a day backstage for Douglas Hodge’s production of Inadmissible Evidence, and Matsuoka said she’s inspired to do more. “My goal is to do the same thing with Sumo and Kabuki, but get hired by the producers,” she said, pointing out that her work could be a window into theater’s backstage world, closed Hollywood sets and television productions.
Matsuoka said her drawings and paintings could also be used for press or as gifts for people involved in the various plays, shows and films.