Email interview with Hiroshi Senju conducted by Sarah Matheson, ’13, studio art major and art history minor, University of Richmond, January 2013
I read in some previous essays that you try to illustrate Lao-Tzu’s philosophical notion of Tao, a universal and natural flow of order. Is this woven symbolically throughout your work or are there specific works or series that pictorially represent this? Does your work affirm this notion or does it challenge it in any way?
I am not trying to illustrate Lao-Tzu’s idea. Probably both of us, brought up in the Eastern culture, we have experienced and mastered a similar sense of nature, to be on the side of nature. In Western culture, historically, nature is something to be managed and controlled by man; and that led to industrial development and new civilization. However, the people (both from Eastern and Western culture) share the same feelings towards nature, it is sometimes hidden under our consciousness.
What is the connection between the surface of your paintings, the mulberry paper mounted on board, and your artwork? Are these materials meant to reflect Japanese heritage? Is there a particular significance to the juxtaposition between the hard board and the softer paper? Why not just use canvas?
The reason for my use of mulberry paper is its flexibility. It can form any shape, and yet is strong enough to mount onto the hard board after all the manipulating. I find it very beautiful. There is a history of mulberry paper and the hard wooden board for the last one thousand years in Japan, but that is not the reason I’m attracted to the combination. They fit right into the contemporary sense of beauty, when the mulberry paper is mounted beautifully flat on the hard board. I’ve tried using canvas, but could not find the same effect as I want for now.
While on the subject of your materials, how do the natural sources of your pigments relate to your subject matter? Does the combination of the paper with the choice of pigment have a specific meaning within your work?
I have been using natural pigments because those were what are available for me.
(I encountered the natural pigments when I was in high school, and that triggered my strong desire to be an artist.) The natural pigments evoke my sense of respect for the nature and the memory which long lost in my DNA, profound awe was mother Earth.
A significant portion of your work throughout your career depicts liquid subject matter. And specifically, liquids that don’t seem to have a beginning or end, as if they are always in mid-action, make up your waterfall series. What about this continuity of motion fascinates you? Is there something about its materiality and about its symbolism that repeatedly draws you to utilize/depict it?
My choice of motif is beauty. After I paint, then, I come to realize those images represent the continuity, the sense of no beginning or end, like the cycle of the universe and life.
Is the repetition of waterfalls in your paintings meant to evoke a feeling of consistent, melodic flow for the viewer? How does this calming nature compare to the feeling of the sublime in your works? Is this an intentional juxtaposition?
If it evoked those senses, that means, we share the same feeling toward nature. I want to share the sense of beauty and the sublime with as many people as possible, and that may be the reason for repetition. As there is no beginning or end, it continues, with no one moment the same as the other.
Along with the strong connection to your heritage, do you find yourself lost in a sort of flow, like a full immersion into positivity and focus, when producing your work? Does the connection between yourself and your work lie more in the process or the finished product?
I find the process the most important. I immerse myself and become one with nature. That’s goes with my belief that art root back to the cave paintings found in Western Europe, like at Altamira and Lascaux, created fifteen thousand years ago. The paintings bring out the fundamental question to the universe. There is sublime, communication (question and possible suggestion) and learning.
Hiroshi Senju (Japanese, born 1958) received a B.F.A., M.F.A., and Ph.D. from the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music. He is the first Asian artist to receive an individual fine arts award at the Venice Biennale (1995). Solo exhibitions have been held at The Hakone Open-Air Museum, Kanagawa, Yamatane Museum of Art, Tokyo (2006), and Sundaram Tagore Gallery, New York (2007, 2009, and 2012). He has been included in group exhibitions at the Japan Society and Asia Society in New York, the Tokyo National Museum, the Contemporary Art Museum Kumamoto, Japan, and the 6th Gwangju Biennale in Korea. Senju is president of the Kyoto University of Art and Design, director of Koyodo Museum, president of Tokyo College of Arts, advisor of The Tokugawa Museum, and vice chairman of The New Life Conference. His work is in the collection of many museums, including The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, and the Toyama Museum of Contemporary Art, Kushiro, Japan. In October 2011, the Hiroshi Senju Museum Karuizawa opened in Karuizawa, Nagano Prefecture.
Read more about Senju and his work