Hiroshi Senju is a Japanese painter based in New York. Neither figurative nor abstract, his monumental nature-inspired artworks act as an intersection between traditional Japanese nihonga technique with the paint-pouring of the Abstract Expressionists.Read More
Senju is best known for his series of waterfall and cliff paintings, the former winning him the Honourable Mention Award at the Venice Biennale in 1995; the first Asian artist to do so.
Born in Tokyo to a family of economists and scientists, Senju and his siblings (who are now a composer and violinist respectively) had to convince their parents in their pursuit of art. Initially, Senju dreamt of becoming an architect, but was forever changed when he encountered the pigments that would later forge his career.
In 1982, Senju graduated from the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Ｍusic with a Bachelor of Fine Arts and completed his Master of Fine Arts in 1984. In 1987, he gained his PhD, and his thesis was later purchased by the University of Tokyo. After receiving the Honourable Mention Award at the Venice Biennale for his 14-metre waterfall work The Fall (1995), Senju moved to New York, where he believed his thousand-year-old technique would set him apart.
Growing up in the shadow of World War II, Senju has always sought to erase the division between East and West in his art, pursuing a timeless harmony seen in nature. His practice combines the use of Japanese nihonga painting—using ground pigments made up of natural materials such as minerals and coral on Japanese mulberry paper, bonded with animal-hide glue—with paint poured down the canvas at an angle.
Contrary to the traditional display of nihonga in dimly lit rooms, Senju prefers his work to be viewed in natural light, having painted on fusuma or sliding doors in many of his public commissions to aid this translucent quality.
Always displaying a fascination with elemental features in nature, The Fall (1995) marked a distinct turning point for Senju's work. In this painting, the context for the waterfall was entirely removed and colour pared back to a more subdued monochrome. Instead of referring to a specific time or place, it is the flow of the current itself that Senju became concerned with, allowing the viewer to 'hear the water flowing, smell the air, and even feel the temperature.' This emblem has become a touchstone that he repeatedly returns to.
In 2009, Senju completed his first clifftop series at the Ishibashi house for the Art House Project, nestled within the volcanic landscape of the Naoshima region. Artists were invited to transform a cluster of centuries-old houses into artworks that reflected the memories of those who had lived there long before.
Inside the Ishibashi house, Senju completed 14 sliding panels, again combining natural pigments that reflected the bare rockface of the cliffs around him with the use of crumpled washi paper that added a sculptural finish. His use of silver pigment adds a sense of temporality to the work, oxidising through its exposure to natural light and confirming the immutability of nature.
Reaffirming the interconnectedness between Senju's artworks and the natural world, the Hiroshi Senju Museum Karuizawa was opened in the verdant Karuizawa landscape in 2011. Designed by architect Ryue Nishizawa, the floorplan follows the natural contours of the site and features silver screens, deep eaves, and UV-cut glass that allow the light to flow throughout the open space. Housing some of Senju's best-known paintings since 1978, it aims to offer an alternative to the dark, enclosed gallery space by showing the paintings in their optimum lighting conditions.
A striking development in Senju's work came in the form of the Day Falls/Night Falls exhibition (2013), where he introduced fluorescent paint to his waterfalls, which become electric blue under ultraviolet light. In these paintings, oyster shells, coral, and semi-precious stones were applied to mulberry-bark paper before the paint was poured, adding an extra dimension of luminosity to the monumental series.
In 2003, Senju completed a mural for the foyer of Grand Hyatt Hotel, Tokyo. In 2004, he assisted in art direction for Haneda Airport Domestic Terminal 2. In 2007, he completed paintings on fusuma at Shofuso, Pennsylvania. In 2008, he completed two ceramic board murals for Akasaka Biz Tower (TBS), Tokyo and Tokyo Metro Fukutoshin Line, Shinjuku-Sanchome Station, Tokyo.
In 2010, Senju assisted in art direction for Haneda Airport International Passenger Terminal and expanded Domestic Terminal 2, and in 2011 he did the same for the new building of Japan Railways Hakata Station.
In 2012, he completed a mural for OUB Centre, Singapore and directed the stage design for opera YUZURU, performed at various cities in Japan. In 2013, Senju completed a mural for Ekoin Temple and completed a ceramic tile mural for Public Bath at JR Onagawa Station, Miyagi in 2015.
In 2015, he was also involved in a public art project commissioned by Southern Branch of The National Palace Museum, Taiwan. In 2016, paintings on fusuma dedicated for Juko-in in Daitokuji temple were opened to the public, along with fusuma painted by Eitoku Kano, Kyoto.
In 1995, Senju received the Honourable Mention Award at the 46th Venice Biennale. In 1998, he received the Konju-hosho (Dark Blue Ribbon Medal) for Hachigatsu no Sora to Kumo (August Sky and Clouds). In 2017, Senju received the fourth Isamu Noguchi Award and in 2018, he received the Award for Excellence in Art, Japan America Society of Greater Philadelphia.
In 2021, he received the 77th Imperial Prize as well as the Japan Art Academy Prize 2020 for Waterfalls, a series of fusuma paintings for Kongobu and also received and the Medal with Dark Blue Ribbon.
Hiroshi Senju has been the subject of both solo exhibition and group exhibitions. Solo exhibitions include Hiroshi Senju Karuizawa Museum — Ten Year Anniversary Exhibition, Hiroshi Senju Museum Karuizawa (2021); Hiroshi Senju 'Pioneering The World of Beauty', Nariwa Museum, Okayama (2021); Senju Hiroshi: Commemorating the Completion of Fusuma paintings for Kongobuji Temple, Koyosan, Japan (2019); and At World's End, Sundaram Tagore Gallery, New York (2018).
Group exhibitions include Illuminations and Phenomena, Sundaram Tagore Gallery, New York (2021); Sundaram Tagore Gallery Summary, Sundaram Tagore Gallery, Singapore (2021); Winter Group Show, Sundaram Tagore Gallery, New York (2020); and Between Earth and Sky, Sundaram Tagore Gallery, New York (2019).
Hiroshi Senju's website can be found here.
Annie Curtis | Ocula | 2021