Hiroshi Senju, known as the “waterfall artist,” is an inter- nationally acclaimed Japanese painter who, lives in New York and has devoted his talent and energy to promote traditional Japanese paintings and techniques the world over. Senju’s latest works of magnitude include the waterfall monuments at the international terminal ofTokyo’s Haneda Airport, the cultural hall at Shibuya, the Japanese style walls for the APEC conference and an exhibition with Kaii Higashiyama, a famous Japanese artist of the late 20th century. He is also busy passing on his talents to younger

generations as the Director of Kyoto University of Art and Design. In our interview, we asked him to give us his take on art and Japanese culture.


Interview with Hiroshi Senju

“Challenging is the most important element”

– First, could you tell us about your one person exhibition “HARUKA NARU AOI HIKARI” in the Chelsea district in New York?

Senju :

This time, I used fluorescent paint for the first time. When we announce or release something publicly, the most important element is to present a new challenge. Also, thinking about where you came from and where you are going is really important. I guess not many people have tried to use fluorescent paint for a full-scale painting. And because I followed my instinct, I discovered the potential of fluorescent paint as a painter’s medium, which millions of painters would not realize as I did. I was sticking to painting something really sublime with an inexpensive material like fluorescent paint. This was my challenge. On reflection, I have some reservations on what I did, though I still have a sense of achievement in my work.

Copyright© 2007 Nacasa & Partners Inc. all rights reserved.

–Since you were using IWAENOGU (paint with pigments derived from natural materials such as seashells, minerals and corals) as a Japanese-Painting painter, didn’t you hesitate about using fluorescent paint?

Senju :

I think absolute honesty is essential to any work of art. If we come contact with everything with absolute honesty, we might be moved by something which we are not normally impressed by. And that leads to creativity. That is why I had a flash of inspiration that “Fluorescent paint can be a great paint; it will be beautiful when I draw a painting with it”. If people say these paintings are not traditional Japanese-Painting since I used fluorescent paint, that is fine by me. But Japanese-Painting is of course considered as Japanese culture and “always absorbing new things from overseas and growing bigger” is a characteristic of Japanese culture.

For example, SUIBOKUGA (a drawing in India ink) is a part of Chinese culture, which came from calligraphy. A technique of using ink was originally created for writing words and has changed into a method for drawing pictures. Later on some of our ancestors like Sesshu adopted the technique and SUIBOKUGA is even considered as Japanese-Painting nowadays. It is really interesting because if we write “ice cream” using letters of the alphabet, it is an American food. But if we write it in KATANAKA, it becomes a part of Japanese culture. To take foreign cultures in with magnanimity and crunch it and digest it and make it our own, that is the peculiarity of Japanese culture. Therefore ways of thinking like “it is not Japanese-Painting if a painter uses Acrylic paints “or” using fluorescent paints and a canvas means the painting is not Japanese-Painting” are the same as the idiom “You cannot see the forest for the trees” and we would not think like that when we think of important characteristics of Japanese culture.