Hiroshi Senju is a renowned Japanese Nihonga painter, born 1958. He is celebrated for his large-scale waterfall paintings, and his works combine elements of Abstract Expressionism with traditional Japanese Nihonga techniques, creating sublime and awe-inspiring pieces.

Nihonga painting, literally translating to "Japanese painting," is a unique style of art that showcases Japan's rich artistic heritage. It is characterised by its use of natural materials, distinct techniques, and emphasis on symbolism and spiritual connection to nature.

Senju’s artistic works, based on its characteristics and particularly his evocative waterfall paintings, are connected with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. These works symbolise the dynamic forces of nature, and capture the essence of climate change and the urgent need for action, which resonates with the Climate Action goal.

Senju’s Water Shrine portrait at the Haneda Airport. Image courtesy of Tokyo Haneda.

Life on Land is another goal that aligns with Senju’s art. Waterfalls are integral to terrestrial ecosystems and they sustain diverse flora and fauna, which celebrates the richness of life on land. This urges us to conserve biodiversity and preserve natural habitats.

Senju's exploration of waterfalls began in the 1990s, and these paintings have become his signature style. Using natural pigments and gofun, which is a unique white pigment used in a variety of art forms, on Japanese mulberry paper, he creates dynamic and ethereal depictions of cascading water, often incorporating subtle references to Japanese cultural aesthetics. His waterfall painting received an Honorable Mention Award At the 1995 Venice Biennale, marking a significant moment in his career.

Senju's portrait in Jukō-in, a sub-temple of Daitoku-ji in Kyoto, Japan. Image courtesy of Hiroshi Senju.

In an exhibition called Day Falls/Night Falls, he showcased his waterfall paintings, using fluorescent pigments that appeared black and white in daylight but glowed electric blue under ultraviolet light. This took place at the Sundaram Tagore Gallery in Singapore. These versatile paintings explore the contrast between day and night, representing the duality of city life and nature, mesmerizing the audience’s attention with its beauty and complexity.

The Water Shrine is another fascinating artwork of Senju. This large-scale painting greets visitors at the International Terminal of Haneda Airport in Tokyo. Depicting a serene waterfall surrounded by lush greenery, it serves as a calming and contemplative space amidst the bustling airport environment.

Senju’s portraits at the Day Falls/Night Falls exhibition. Image courtesy of Hiroshi Senju.

While the specific symbolism in Senju's work varies depending on the individual piece and its context, there are some recurring themes and interpretations that can be applied broadly and drawn from each artwork and its context. For instance, the balance in Senju's use of traditional Nihonga techniques that are discerned in his waterfall series and natural materials emphasizes harmony between art and nature and between tradition and contemporary expression. 

Senju’s focus on waterfalls, landscapes, and natural elements like water and pigments reflects a deep connection to the natural world and its power, and his portraits often evoke a sense of awe, serenity, and the dynamism of nature. While deeply rooted in Japanese artistic traditions, Senju's work transcends cultural boundaries. Universal themes of nature, spirituality, and beauty resonate globally, fostering understanding and cultural exchange, and inviting viewers to connect with their own emotions and experiences. Eventually, this helps them to find their unique interpretations within the vastness of his artistic expression.

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