His first exhibition was also his last

February 8, 2022 § Leave a comment

Mark Matsuno | Above the City of Angels


Not many people knew Mark Matsuno by name, but his lifetime of work has touched countless people.

The San Francisco native, born March 24, 1952, moved to Los Angeles at the age of 20 to work in advertising and specialized in producing printed promotional materials for Hollywood movies. Working on marketing materials for High Fidelity, Saving Private Ryan and many others, as well as overseeing the production of packaging designs for the Friends DVD box set and the Harry Potter DVDs, Matsuno was known as a rare, talented and drama-free graphic designer in Hollywood, according to those close to him.

After battling illness for more than two years, Matsuno died on December 12, 2021, at the age of 69.

In his later years, Matsuno found time to paint. At his death, Matsuno’s paintings were showing at fellow former San Franciscan Thomas Reynolds’ gallery in Santa Barbara.

“For many years, Mark would stop by my gallery in San Francisco when he came home to see friends and family,” Reynolds said. “I always enjoyed his visits and hearing stories about his work as a big-time Hollywood art director. So imagine my delight when I received a message from him last year reporting that the pandemic had given him more time to paint, and including a link to some of his paintings. They were terrific! I was especially pleased, since I’d recently moved my gallery to Santa Barbara and was eager to include more Southern California artists.”

Reynolds added: “We debuted his first exhibition, Urban Landscapes, last fall, and his paintings stirred a great response. Unfortunately, his first exhibition will also be his last. Farewell to a talented artist and a wonderful human being.”

Matsuno wrote an autobiographical post on Art Matters last October, stating:

Throughout my career as a creative director in advertising, I never forgot my passion for fine art. In recent years, I have fine-tuned my talent as a painter and turned my attention to creating a body of work, which has proven to be a renaissance of sorts for me. I enjoy depicting recognizable icons and structures within the urban landscapes that surround me, in both Los Angeles and my native San Francisco, and turning them into works of art.

— “From movie art to fine art

His son, Myles Matsuno, said his father “fulfilled a dream” when he started showing and selling his paintings.

His daughter, Alyssa Matsuno Dessert, recalled that her father, an eclectic lover of music and film, would put on music and paint all day in his art studio at home. He enjoyed painting jazz artists, but also landscapes of California’s urban centers. Matsuno Dessert added that her father encouraged her creative side, and his works would sometimes play off her own work. “I used to take a lot of pictures, and at times he would end up painting some of the pictures I’d taken. So that was kind of our thing,” she said. “Not necessarily a specific place, but traveling together, walking the streets of San Francisco together, walking around France together, just being together. And then, seeing him take those photos and turn them into his artwork was pretty special.”

Myles Matsuno, a filmmaker, also collaborated with his father. He asked his father to design the posters for his first feature film, Christmas in July (2021), as well as his documentary, First to Go (2018). The documentary is about Kchiro Kataoka, Mark Matsuno’s maternal grandfather and the first Japanese American arrested by the FBI in San Francisco after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. Kataoka was the owner of the Aki Hotel in San Francisco’s Japantown at the time.

“He was so happy and proud I made that movie,” Myles Matsuno said. “I mean, he’s part of the reason I made it in the first place. He’s the one, along with my grandma. He’s the reason I even started learning about any of that stuff, because that wasn’t taught to me in the school system.”

— Excerpted from an article in Nichi Bei Weekly


Mark Matsuno created the poster for his son’s documentary film.

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