Shunga painting has been a part of me for quite some time now. It is almost six years now since the release of the first version of “Haru”. Although years are supposedly long when ahead of you they simply blur into seconds as soon as they have passed. I am 50 years old when I write this and I was 44 back then. Just a little boy in my own opinion and I guess I will look back at myself in the exact same way six years from now.
There is however a fact of life that has radically changed since I created the first design. Back in 2013 I was still a tattoo artist specialising in the traditional Japanese full body suit style called Irezumi. I was merely painting a little on the side when time permitted. The painter inside of me was never quiet during those days, I remember, but I spent most of my energy following the tradition I had chosen for myself back in the early 90’s. I remember that I was full of ideas for new ways of expressing the erotic and sensual side of the human heart and I also found that through my paintings I could tell stories and discuss issues in a way that tattooing didn’t allow for.
The original “Haru” was born out of the desire to find a new way for me as a man and a human to depict sexuality and at the same time re-invent myself as an artist. To paint a shunga portrait of a vagina, vulva, pussy in a serious and what I now recognise as a romantic and sensual manner, was a way to emerge from the shadows of fuzzy masculinity and share myself openly with the world. If that world wanted to see my work and read my words, that is.
To my surprise it actually did.
So now, after six years of intensive work, the never ending quelling of my demons, ghosts and mental constructions have brought me to the moment where the tides have turned. I now spend most of my days seriously painting, imspired by the art of Shunga, and I sometimes tattoo a little bit on old clients. I have admitted to myself that I always wanted to be a painter, and that the 28 years of tattooing was a necessary detour full of life changing experiences that most likely have put me in the position I am in today.
Sure, I have had to discover just how good instant noodles taste when you have very little money but that being true to your heart’s desire is sweeter than any amount of money you can possibly make.
Below is a text I wrote about this print back in 2016 and it is my hope that you will keep in mind that three years has passed since then.
“This print is the was the first in an intended series of five portraits. The idea came to me after a seeing some Edo period (1603-1868) woodblock prints depicting close-ups of vaginas reflected in Kagami (Japanese old style polished bronze mirrors). My intention was to couple each design with a famous Haiku poem and since this form of poetry traditionally revolves (at least superficially) around the Japanese traditional seasons – spring, summer, autumn, winter and the New Year, I did imagine a logical flux through them.There was to be both female prints as well as male ones and the fifth showing the two coming together (the New Year).
Initially I struggled for a long time, alway incorporating to much information into the designs. After several months of anxious painting and repeatedly throwing everything but the main design away, I finally arrived at a format I was content with. My background as a traditional Japanese tattoo artist probably clashed with the subtleties I was aiming for and the creative process proved to be painful and tedious until the first breakthrough was accomplished. I was simply “tattooing” the prints and much of the eroticism and plain horniness was drowned in arrays of flowers and other overly ambitious additions.
For this print I chose a poem by Buson (1715-1783). I stumbled across it when looking through one of the several Haiku books in my modest but to the point library that serves as some sort of a backbone for most of my creative projects.
When I first started flirting with the Japanese arts I collected books on the subject from floor to ceiling. It was a necessity as well as an obsession of mine. I read them all from cover to cover, full of feverish hunger and a burning desire to learn and somehow become initiated. I understood that I knew nothing and I also hoped that I could learn something. For a brief period I transformed one of the rooms of our small house into a library. It was a dream I had nourished since a young boy and I was filled with pride as I arranged the volumes on Zen, Kabuki, Haiku and Ukiyo-e on their designated shelves. And there they also remained. Until I one day suddenly sold most of them to colleagues and friends.
I had come to the realization that my hardbound treasures reminded me more of old dusty bones piled along the walls of some catacomb somewhere beneath a decaying old city. I understood that once they were read they served no purpose to me and could instead benefit a new owner. Perhaps someone that was more in need of their printed secrets. I also needed money in order to constantly return to Japan.
As the years have accumulated on top of that realization I have also understood that I am perhaps a somewhat impulsive and rash nature and that some books can actually become a part of you, so I have started collecting again. This time I am desperatly trying to limit myself to jus a few bookcases and if I find a new book, one of the old ones has to move out. I hope this will in the end polish my reference library into a sharp and skilled blade.
The Haiku on the print reads;
ko no ma no tera to
nari ni keri
which in english becomes;
Cherry blooms are falling –
and now between the trees,
a temple appears.
I believe my print fits the words perfectly. I used the traditional Irezumi (traditional Japanese tattoo) pattern of Sakura Fubuki (winter cherry blossoms) and as far as the temple goes I think the design works splendidly.
I worked hard to paint a vagina that was exiting and at the same time sweet and lovely. Something that would make you almost fall in love . Or at least make your heart beat faster. It is supposed to be a portrait of somebody and I didn’t want this intimate close-up to be just “porn”, like the images you would find almost everywhere on the internet these days. That type of pornography seems to me contrived and decieving and has not so much to do with being lustful or horny as it has to do with basic and perhaps learned reactions to visual stimuli. In short, it doesn’t turn me on intellectually or emotionally. What is today labeled pornography is shallow and void and if you have had really real sex you know what I am talking about. The heart has to be in it.”
Buy the “Haru” print here…
Find out more about the artist Senju…