senju shunga Flowers of Edo Hatsu
Senju Shunga
10/27/2023
12 min
2

Senju Shunga's Absorbing 36 Flowers of Edo Series

10/27/2023
12 min
2

Following on from his shunga series 36 Views of Mount Fuji (2022/2023), the Swedish artist Senju Shunga has started a new series that will again consist of 36 designs. The artist explains: 

Hatsu” is the first of 36 prints in my latest series titled “Edo no Shana (Flowers of Edo)”, and marks yet another step forward in the way I create art. Within Japanese Ukiyo-e (pictures of the floating world), there is a genre called “Bijinga (portraits of beautiful women)” and it's closely connected with the more explicit “shunga” genre. Loose shunga prints were often collected in albums, where the collector could construct his or hers personal little fantasy. 

senju shunga Flowers of Edo Hatsu

Fig.1. Hatsu ( Oct 2023)

Firefighter

Many times, these albums had Bijinga prints glued in on the first couple of pages, perhaps to create a more real sensation when viewing the prints for personal pleasure. So, naturally, I want to challenge myself with creating a collection of Bijinga. The keywords tonthia collection will be subtleties and a lot of playing with the historical roles of women and men during the Edo period. “Hatsu” is a Hikeshi, a firefighter. A very masculine profession in those days, and I have never heard of any female Hikeshi as of yet. 

senju shunga Flowers of Edo Hatsu (detail)

Fig.1a. Detail close-up

Rowdy

The Edo firefighters had a very short life expectancy and where regarded as heroes, even though their rowdy and uncompromising lifestyle perhaps terrified and bothered the common folk and samurai class likewise. The next print will be of a famous Kabuki character, and equally rowdy person -Benten Kozo."

Preliminary drawing (Oct 2023) for Edo no hana (the flowers of Edo) by Senju Shunga

Fig.1b. Preliminary drawing

senju 36  flowers of Edo Benten Kozo

Fig.2. Benten Kozo (Oct 2023)

Five Men of the White Waves

Can we trust our own eyes? For my second painting in the ”Flowers of Edo” series, I have chosen to portray the Japanese Kabuki theatre character Benten Kozo. In the famous play "Shiranami Gonin Otoko" (Five Men of the White Waves) Benten Kozo is a gizoku (honorable thief) with the ability and skill to disguise himself as a beautiful woman. For a long time I have been contemplating the idea that perhaps Benten Kozo could instead be a beautiful woman with the ability to pose as a man. Wouldn’t that be a truly interesting twist to the already very interesting and exiting drama? I have placed Benten Kozo on the famous Ryogoku bridge in Edo (now Tokyo). This iconic bridge was featured in the 2015 anime film ”Miss Hokusai”. A personal favorite of mine that I recommend you to see!

senju 36  flowers of Edo Benten Kozo detail

Fig.2a.

senju 36  flowers of Edo Benten Kozo sketch

Fig.2b.

senju 36  flowers of Edo Kumonryu (9 dragons)

Fig.3. Kumonryu (9 dragons) (Nov 2023)

9 Dragons

“Kumonryu” (9 dragons) is the latest painting in my new ongoing series “Edo no hana” (flowers of Edo). I had a great time reconnecting with my early days of being a tattooer of traditional Irezumi body suits. In the beginning of my career, I spent countless hours sketching dragons. In my opinion, Japanese dragons are the hardest to do justice, alongside shishi (lions) and koi (carp). Being three of the basic designs in irezumi they nevertheless require a lifetime to master. And for this female version of the famous chinese outlaw hero Kumonryu, I had to design no less than eight different dragons (the ninth one is on her back and therefore not visible). There are still 33 portraits of beautiful women to create before this series reaches its conclusion, and I am now realizing how much of challenge this will be

senju 36  flowers of Edo Kumonryu (9 dragons) detail

Fig.3a.

senju 36  flowers of Edo Kumonryu (9 dragons) detail tattoo

Fig.3b.

Kumonryu (9 dragons) by Senju Shunga alternative version

Fig.3c Alternative version

Kumonryu (9 dragons) another version

Fig.3d.

Kumonryu (9 dragons) another version head close-up

Fig.3e.

Kumonryu (9 dragons) another version close-up upper body

Fig.3f

Kumonryu (9 dragons) another version close-up leg tattoo

Fig.3g

senju shunga 36 bijin (Koukishin)

Fig.4. ”Koukishin (curiosity)” (Jan 2024)

Quest For True Intimacy

After exploring softness and subdued colors in my Shunga print series ”36 Views of Mount Fuji”, I was overcome with an urge for a bolder, stronger palette. Also, I wanted to further explore the sensual world and our human imagination. Can I find the same emotions in the dressed, the barely mentioned and the subtle? My reason for painting what I do has always been a question of trying to capture the beauty of the human heart. For me, it has always been a quest for true intimacy. A matter of leaving behind the stigmas and dogmas that confuse us, deceive us, hides us, shames us and lie to us. Hopefully, and I have no real doubt about the fact, this beauty of the heart will be impossible to capture, graciously compelling me to never stop searching for it. 

senju 36 bijin (Koukishin) detail head

Fig.4a.

senju 36 bijin (Koukishin) detail shunga book

Fig.4b.

senju shunga Hasuike (lotus pond)

Fig.5 “Hasuike (lotus pond)” blue variation. (24 Jan 2024)

Different Tone and Temperature

Hasuike (lotus pond)” blue variation. Influenced by Italian Art Nouveau posters, this blue variation of the painting I showed yesterday sets a different tone and temperature. When Japanese art, especially in the form of Ukiyo-e woodblock prints, arrived in Europe during the second half of the 1800s, young European artists began experimenting wildly with form and color. It was perhaps the single greatest art revolution in history, and without this meeting of Japan and the West, art as we have known it after the 1850s would look very different. 

senju shunga Hasuike (lotus pond) detail heads

Fig.5a

senju shunga Hasuike (lotus pond) detail lotus flower

Fig.5b

Hasuike (lotus pond) by Senju Shunga

Fig.5c

Hasuike (lotus pond) by Senju Shunga close-up

Fig.5d

okiku by Senju Shunga

Fig.6. Okiku (March 2024)

Dark and Sinister

Is my art poison for the mind? Or have religious moral delusions been infecting the world for thousands of years, and twisted what is natural and beautiful into something dark and sinister? I know the answer and I am sure you do too.

Okiku by Senju Shunga detail

Fig.6a

Okiku by Senju Shunga detail snake tattoo

Fig.6b

senju shunga chiyo

Fig.7. "Chiyo" (March 2024)

Learning Experience

You can’t hurry art. Human time is only a concept. At first, it seems strange, that the more skillful and experienced I become as an artist, the longer each painting takes to create. Shouldn’t it be the other way around? Thankfully, that is not the truth. The more I know and understand, about creating art, about myself and about the world, the larger the universe of painting becomes. Each work is a learning experience and an obstacle to overcome. Success in completing one painting in a satisfactory way will leave me with more and new skills, tools and insights, so the following piece is always started at a level I haven’t quite reached yet.

senju shunga chiyo close-up head

Fig.7a

Snail

Some years ago, I would be frustrated if a painting dragged on for weeks and months. Today, I know that there is no such thing as fast or slow when it comes to creating. Each artwork will take exactly as long as it takes. No shorter and no longer. One of the reasons artist’s might feel they are ”failing” a painting, is because they simply haven’t worked the neccessary time required for a particular piece. Don’t stop! Continue, continue, continue and you will get there! If a snail sets out for Mount Fuji, surely it will get there! 

Coffee Breaks

Please keep in mind that coffee breaks, research, looking at art, reading, having a beer, walking the dog or cooking can be equally important as putting pen and brush to paper and canvas. Just don’t let the work completely out of your mind and never give up. Continue or start over and then move straight ahead! All the masterpieces of art took exactly the right amount of time to be completed. It could be five hours or five years. You can only know when arrive at the journey’s end. Time is a concept. For this latest painting, ”Chiyo”, I spent at least 4-5 intense hours a day for about 2 weeks just for the tattoo. Coming up with the simple background took 3 days of experimenting and starting over. Painting it took half a day. was that slow or quick? Yes, it was.

senju shunga chiyo close-up tattoo

Fig.7b

Bodysuit Tattoo

The following pics (Fig.7c to f) show the various steps for painting Irezumi, the traditional Japanese tattoo! Creating a full bodysuit tattoo like this ”Karajishi botan (chinese lion with peonies)” design is truly like creating a whole other painting within the painting. If you want to do it right, there can be no rush in designing it, as even one small corner being done in haste would ultimately ruin the whole composition. Even with my 24 years experience in designing for Irezumi, a piece like this is incredibly difficult to create. 

senju shunga chiyo tattoo

Fig.7c

Horishi

Of course, compared to creating it on a living , breathing client, there is some relief in not having to deal with the person bleeding and moving around because of the pain from the needles. And I can go back and change it over and over until I reach the desired result, something which of course would be impossible once the ink is inserted into the client’s skin. I am enjoying creating this series of tattooed beauties on so many levels. Not only do I get to constanly work on my skillset as a painter, but I also get to evolve as a horishi ( a traditional Japanese tattoo artist). It’s beyond exiting to notice how all these years of intense studies and constant work seems to be coming full circle!

senju shunga chiyo tattoo development

Fig.7d

senju shunga chiyo tattoo evolution

Fig.7e

senju shunga chiyo tattoo evolution

Fig.7f

Aki by Senju Shunga

Fig.8. "Aki" (Apr 2024)

Climbing Koi

The legend behind the koi (carp) climbing the waterfall in autumn refers is called ”Touryuumon” in Japanese. It is a Chinese folk story about a Koi going back upstream to spawn when the momiji (autumn leaves) are falling. 

This is natural behavior. among many different kinds of fish. However, when he reaches the mighty waterfall called Long men (Dragon’s gate), he is unable to ascend it. After many failed attempts, the exhausted koi puts his everything into one final, desperate jump. At last, he is able to conquer the waterfall, but due to fatigue, he has to pay dearly for his victory. He dies.

The Chinese gods in heaven have taken notice of the koi’s bravery and perserverance and rewards him by transforming him into a mighty dragon!

In xen buddhism, the koi’s continous struggle to scale the waterfall is likened to the practise of zazen (seated silent meditation) and the koi’s death and subsequent transformation can be seen as finally reaching satori (enlightment/liberation).

To design a tradtional irezumi full body tattoo with this theme has been nurtured in my mind for years, and now I, just like the koi, took a giant leap and saw it through all the way.

Aki by Senju Shunga detail

Fig.8a

Aki by Senju Shunga detail tattooed body

Fig.8b

We'll be closely following Senju's new series and will include future designs to this page.

Click HERE for the influence of the Shin Hanga artist Shotei Takahashi on Senju Shunga

The above pieces can be obtained on the following page.

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