It is the lack of self-denial and self-discipline that explains the mediocrity of so much devotional art. Thomas Merton

Yuko Matsuoka: Did not our Hearts Burn within Us

ArtWay Visual Meditation July 16, 2017

Yuko Matsuoka: Did not our Hearts Burn within Us

“Did not our hearts burn within us, while he talked with us by the way?”

by Yuko Matsuoka with Rachel Hostetter Smith

Whenever Japanese artist Yuko Matsuoka paints Christian subjects, there are three things she keeps in the forefront of her mind: 1) her love of Christ, 2) that a Christian spirit should imbue each piece, and 3) the importance of color to the impact and meaning of the work. This painting of Christ’s journey to Emmaus is the first of four paintings Yuko has produced on the subject. The second work was featured on ArtWay in 2012.

A gifted colorist, Yuko worked as an interior designer in the US and Japan even as she continued her studies in art. While many artists have depicted the road to Emmaus in a barren setting like wild dry fields using a somber, monochromatic palette, Yuko sets it in a delightful green place. The vibrant jewel tones of the stained glass of Chartres Cathedral deeply influences her use of color. But the greens in this painting may be specifically attributed to the influence of her first private art teacher (Shigehiko Ishikawa), an outstanding artist who was known for the beautiful greens of his paintings. It was from him that she, too, came to love green and to incorporate them in her paintings.

According to Luke’s account in chapter 24, after the discovery of Jesus’ empty tomb by the women two of Jesus’ disciples were walking to a village called Emmaus, when Jesus joined them as a fellow traveler and the disciples were kept from recognizing him. When they arrived in the village as evening approached, the disciples constrained Jesus, asking him to remain with them at an inn. At the supper table the disciples saw Jesus take the bread; he blessed it, broke it and gave it to them. Their eyes were opened, and they knew him; and Jesus vanished from their sight. And they said one to another, “Did not our hearts burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?”

In this painting Yuko wanted to describe the scene of the hearts of the disciples burning within them while Jesus talked to them, so she painted the disciples bathed in warm color emanating from Christ to represent the illuminating nature of their spiritual conversation. By backlighting Jesus, she indicates the way the disciples’ eyes were metaphorically blinded so that they could not see clearly who he was. The verdant green light rising up behind Jesus signals the new life made possible through his death and resurrection. And the glimpse of three stars that appear against a deep blue sky in the upper left corner indicate the impending evening when Christ will reveal himself to them.

Yuko has said that whenever she undertakes to depict Jesus she struggles with how to express him as the Son of God who is not only divine but equally human, experiencing genuine affection. When Yuko finds herself comparing her work to so many great Christian artists, she often feels discouraged and small, an experience that may be shared by other artists of faith. But in these moments of discouragement, Yuko reminds herself that her work and the beauty it hopes to convey are dedicated to God. It is this knowledge that gives her the courage to continue to pursue her calling as an artist.

Recently Yuko received two pieces of news that testify to the power of art to imbue spaces with a sense of God’s presence and love. The first is from the Toyo Eiwa Girls School kindergarten. Soon after her painting of the road to Emmaus was placed in the hall, a couple of the parents became Christians noting the impact of the distinct spiritual air they found in the kindergarten. The second is from the college library which reports that since her work Come Holy Spirit was hung on the center wall more students come to study at the library. These events have provided Yuko with the encouragement and power to continue to paint Christian themes.


Yuko Matsuoka: Did not our hearts burn within us, while he talked with us on the way to Emmaus. Luke 24:32, 2010, oil, 116.7 x 91.0 cm.

Yuko Matsuoka is a Christian artist who has provided leadership as an Executive Officer to the Japanese Christian Art Association (JCAA) and as Executive Director of the International Culture Appreciation and Interchange Society, Inc. in Japan for many years. She has also served as President of the Asian Christian Art Association. Yuko Matsuoka was born in 1938 in Otaru, Hokkaido, Japan. She started oil painting lessons with the late Shigehiko Ishikawa in 1954. In 1958-1962 she attended the College of Wooster in Ohio and Michigan State University, from which she received her BFA. She then worked as an interior designer, first in the USA and from 1963 in Tokyo. Yuko Matsuoka continued her art studies under the late Tadao Tanaka, a leader of the Japanese Christian art world. She has had several solo exhibitions and has taken part in many group exhibitions in various countries in Asia. The book A Thousand Winds contains 11 of her paintings (Yuko Matsuoka and Reiko Watanabe, A Thousand Winds, with CD, Japanese and English, 2007. ISBN 9784873954967 4873954967).

Rachel Hostetter Smith, PhD is Gilkison Distinguished Professor of Art History at Taylor University, Indiana, USA. She received her doctorate from Indiana University and was a member of the graduate faculty of the School of Comparative Arts at Ohio University. She publishes on a wide range of topics in the arts in both academic and lay publications. Smith served on the Board of CIVA (Christians in the Visual Arts) for many years and is a founding member of ASCHA (the Association of Scholars of Christianity in the History of Art). Smith has been a visiting scholar, professor, and seminar leader in Europe, Canada, Indonesia, South Africa, and China. She was Curator and Project Director of Charis: Boundary Crossings --Neighbors Strangers Family Friends, an international traveling exhibition of Asian and North American artists. With the Nagel Institute for the Study of World Christianity she organized the R5: A Studio and Seminar in South Africa and serves as Curator and Project Director of the exhibition Between the Shadow and the Light, which is traveling across the US into 2018. She is currently developing a project in China with the Nagel Institute.



1. ENGLAND – The Art of Faith walk in London is the second Art Trail created through the work of commission4mission. commission4mission members Mark Lewis and Jonathan Evens researched the Art of Faith walk produced by the Corporation of London with the support of the Diocese of London. This walk enables walkers to discover contemporary works of art in the City’s historic churches, including work by Henry Moore, Damien Hirst and Jacob Epstein.

2. ARTICLE – New York art museum seeks to counter Islamophobia, see

3. CALL FOR PAPERS – Conference of the Centre de Recherche et d’Études Histoire et Sociétés (CREHS), Université d’Artois, Arras, France, 10 November 2017. For the third year in a row, the University of Artois organises a one-day conference on the history of the Habsburg Low Countries during the Renaissance. These conferences aim at bringing together Belgian and French scholars working on a particular theme of the history of the Low Countries. On the occasion of the 500th anniversary of the start of the Reformation, this year’s theme will be religious reform. All papers on subjects such as historiography, religious congregations, religion and theology, art and culture, chambers of rhetoric, politics and contacts, mobility and exchange across borders in the context of religious reform will be welcomed until 1 October 2017. More detailed information can be found here.

For more exhibitions, lectures, conferences etc. inside and outside your country, click here


Other recent meditations:
- July 2017: Edward Knippers: White Shirt
- July 2017: Late Classical Sculpture of the Good Shepherd
- June 2017: Regan O Callaghan: 3 Mothers
- June 2017: Engelbert Mveng: Ugandan Martyrs Altar

For more Visual Meditations, see under Artists