Artist Naoko Matsubara will receive 2010 Alumni Distinguished Achievement Award

Akanksha Vaidya Nov 1, 2010

Homecoming has always been about instilling Carnegie Mellon pride in current students and alumni. With this objective in mind, famous alumni will kick-start this year’s Homecoming weekend by sharing their journeys to success with the campus community.

The Alumni Awards are presented for excellence in a variety of disciplines, including arts, humanities, sciences, technology, and business.

On Thursday, the recipients of the 2010 Alumni Distinguished Achievement Award will share their stories. One of the two recipients is Naoko Matsubara (A ’62), an accomplished woodcut artist.

Matsubara received her bachelor’s degree in arts at the Kyoto Academy of Fine Art in Japan. She received a Fulbright Scholarship after her bachelor’s degree and came to Carnegie Mellon (called Carnegie Tech at the time) to complete her master’s in fine arts. She also has an honorary doctorate degree from Chatham University.

Matsubara last visited Pittsburgh in 2009 for an exhibit at the Carnegie Museum of Art and Chatham University’s art gallery. In an interview with The Tartan, Matsubara explained that Pittsburgh is special for her, as it was the first place she came to from her home in Japan.
Coming to the United States in 1960 was a life-changing experience, Matsubara said. It was the first time she had left Japan, and she felt a “wonderful sense of freedom.” At Carnegie Mellon, she had the freedom to take whatever classes she wanted and was not required to take any she did not want to — an idea that was new to her. The general environment at Carnegie Mellon was also conducive to making art; Matsubara described her studio at that time, which overlooked Schenley Park, as “beautiful.”

Along with this inspiring atmosphere and greater freedom, Matsubara was given a responsibility: She had to focus her thoughts and find out exactly what she wanted to do. “[There are] so many things you can do in fine arts,” Matsubara said. For her, the most difficult task in those early days was to focus on one aspect of the broad spectrum of things she could do. Matsubara explained that, for a long time, she “tried to find what [she] really wanted to do.” It was not until one evening in 1961 that she realized what this was. Her friends asked her to accompany them to a concert by the Indian musician Ravi Shankar at Chatham University. Matsubara had never heard Shankar’s music and did not know what to expect before she went to the concert.

As Matsubara put it, after the concert, she was “breathless.” She explained that experiencing such wonderful music helped clear her mind, and that after the concert, she understood what she was supposed to do. The next day, she went to her studio and started working on a woodcut based on the feelings she had about the concert.

Ever since that day, Matsubara realized that making woodcuts and using them to make prints was what she wanted to pursue for life.

After graduating from Carnegie Mellon in 1962, Matsubara traveled extensively all over the world. According to the University Lecture Series website, Matsubara has had solo exhibits in the U.S., Canada, Japan, England, Ireland, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Holland, and Mexico. Matsubara also gained inspiration for projects from her trips across the world. She said that one of the most memorable traveling experiences was visiting Tibet. According to an article published in the Pittsburgh City Paper, Tibet changed “Matsubara’s perception of space and color.” Her travels in Tibet led to the publication of a book of her artwork titled Tibetan Sky that has a forward by the Dalai Lama. Apart from her travels, Matsubara’s art has significant connections to her home country, Japan.

A lot of her work is based on nature, an aspect she explained is related to her father and his teachings. Her father was a priest and instilled in her an admiration for the divine and for nature. Currently, Matsubara is working on murals and a series of abstract artwork.

Matsubara believes that the most important thing for budding artists to keep in mind is that they need to find their own direction. She believes that this is especially hard since there is a variety of types of art into which an artist can delve deeper.

“You can study from other artists,” Matsubara said, “[but] only you can do your own thing. Art has to be a reflection of your own life.”

Matsubara’s lecture will be on Thursday at 4:30 p.m. in the Rashid Auditorium in the Hillman Center.

Along with Matsubara, Stuart Card, the second recipient of the 2010 Alumni Distinguished Achievement Award, will talk about his life experiences. Card is a senior research fellow at the Palo Alto Research Center, where he is currently the manager of the User Interface Research Group.