Hope you’re chilling enough to enjoy the 2019’s closure of the hottest bed in the net with a great erotic artist: Senju! From Sweden to Japan, an artist who discovered his passion for japanese “shunga”, bringing us together to travel through his beautiful work of art. Come watch closely!
On your website your story is clearly narrated. My first curiosity is:
you wrote that you experiment with different tools and medium, from
painting to photography. Which one is the best, to you?
I have tried a lot of different ways of creating: from more western traditional ones like oils or acrylics to liners and Copic markers. I truly enjoyed delving into using traditional Japanese pigments and handmade Washi papers: that was a completely different feeling (painting in a Japanese style it is almost impossible to use western mediums).
That is how it works for me at least: the combination of right things that make the totality.
However, since I have always been trying to revitalise myself as well as re-inventing myself, I dared to start experimenting with digital painting some six years ago.
This has now become my favourite way of creating: I use the digital painting tools very much, like I would use the analog ones.
It was difficult because I had to deconstruct a lot of ideas I had about making art and I also had to build up a courage in order to be open about.
In the tattoo scene I come from for example, there is a pretty strong negativity towards digital painting. It is not really considered ”real” and perhaps there are some ideas that painting digitally would be cheating in some way: it’s not like the program would do you any favours or give you any ”magical” help.
I think a lot of people still holds a belief that computers are some kind of magic boxes that you can simply tell what to do. If anybody really payed attention to the complexity of menial tasks like setting up an email account, they would really begin to understand that digital painting is a very complex thing that requires a lot of learning and a lot of work.
I easily spend a hundred hours on a painting, often much more, so digital painting is not easy. It is still the artist that paints and it all depends on your seeing and your visions. It is a constant learning process filled with obstacles and breakthroughs. Just like ”real” painting is.
From your childhood as sensitive child, through your punk teenage, up to now: does exist any constant of yourself that remains? If yes, how does it bring you to shunga?
I think the constant is the seeking of who you are, what is really reality and what you can do with that in order to contribute to a better life and world. I have always been driven by the same thirst for progress, empathy, and love.
Nowadays I would really say that it was all the same thing… painting, drawing, writing, photography, tattooing… I always had the same things in my mind, the same visions. I was just trying to apply new approaches and techniques in order to get to where I was heading.
It is an artform in itself to just stop and drop what you are currently doing and instead embark on something completely new. It is true that a lot of people around me sometimes have a hard time keeping up with my change of moods and paths and sometimes I lose friends and other people for good in that process. It can’t be helped really. I can’t stop. I have to go forward and I have to change.
Think about it this way….the universe is changing and evolving every microsecond of existence, so why would we as humans, an animal like all the others, not have to also constantly change?
It is an illusion that not changing creates stability and safety. It simply doesn’t work that way in reality. But we are all being taught this ”truth” from an early age and they really hammer it into us deep.
Just like all the other crazy things about sexuality, the world, love, what is true, religion; we grow up to believe that our ”reality” is ”real” and then we struggle our whole lives to keep the house of cards from not collapsing. And it is always crashing down upon us and we hide behind illusions and delusions.
It is our duty to our self to admit to all of this and to start travelling on the path ahead.
You became an “horishi”, japan master tattooist. Which medium is the more satisfying between canvas and skin?
Yes, I worked with tattooing for 28 years and 20 of those with Japanese traditional tattooing only. I don’t know why I did that for so long. I guess it was a process and I had to follow along and see through. Slowly, as I was creating the traditional Japanese tattoos I started to find myself somewhere between the lines.
Now I am currently totally devoted to painting, but still continue working on all my regular tattoo clients from before.
I have a responsibility to finish their tattoo and I pour all my energy into that when I do. But there is a slow shift into more and more serious painting and that takes a lot of time and hard work.
The canvas is much more satisfying to me than skin. Skin is always attached to a client and that means that you are never completely free to create.
Your shunga are modern both for graphic and thematics: your subjects are mostly female, intead of traditional ones. Why?
I think this depends on the simple fact that I don’t enjoy painting men too much. I enjoy painting cocks but men as a whole is not so very poetic to me. Lately I have started to experiment with some gay themes and that changes it a bit so we will see what comes out of it.
I also have to adapt the themes to things that I find interesting and challenging. I have some things that I really want to say and I try to constantly find the best way to do that visually as well as content wise.
Sexuality is so very charged with ideas of what is normal, what is arousing, what is kinky, etc.
Firstly I have to explore these ideas for myself and make my own mind up about it.
Copying the Shunga from the Edo period would not make sense since that time is not here and now. Also, current western ideas about sex are a minefield of illusions and imagery that is just passed along as ”sexual”.
In reality, what is arousing is much much more than just two (or more) naked people fucking. All these ideas served up to us by the porn industry, religious beliefs etc, has to be questioned and teared down before we can reach anything ”real”.
Questions that at the moment are floating in my mind when I work are for instance: if we take away the illusion that there is something that can be called normal, then what happens with labels like ”hetero”, ”gay”, ”lesbian” or ”bisexual”? Are there really a need for those labels? Why not be attracted to who you are attracted to in the now and then call THAT normal? Why must we constantly define everything through these labels? Why do we call masturbation for a specific word? Why don’t we just call it sex like all other forms of sex? We call groups of two or more that makes love for ”sex”, but when it’s just you it is not really sex but some kind of lesser form of it.
And arousal is also depending on other factors of sensuality, while most of them very personal. Everything that we call ”fetishes” (another label) are very personal and often do not necessarily come from the sexual world.
Some things gets intertwined, intermingled and perhaps sex is one of the more primal urges and behaviours that we still have with us today. So maybe that is why different situations, difficulties or personal problems seeks a way to get resolved by combining it with sex. When you have really amazing sex time stops dead in its tracks and all the little things that you constantly worry or think about disappear from the immediate now.
So intimate deep sex is a little bit similar to Zazen (zen meditation). It strips reality of all the strange things we have dressed it up in and makes it appear to us as it really is.
What is the response of public in front of your art?
The overwhelming majority of people that view my art (when I am there to hear it) respond in a very positive way. That makes me very happy and tells me I must be doing things at least a little bit right. Even when I paint scenes or situations that usually would make some people blink once or twice, it seems that they think its beautiful.
Maybe it is the way I view the erotic world? I do not like violence or power structures so I try to stay away from those things. I also only paint scenes that interest or fascinate me in a positive way. Sometimes I paint gay or lesbian scenes only because I want to prove to my self that I am able to go around the idea of ”normal”. I focus on the attraction, the intimacy and the arousal. And also on the pleasurable aspect. I want to include all the aspects of the erotic that I find positive and good even if I personally haven’t had sex with another man or experiment with bondage.
I want people to really see that positive side of intimacy. It doesn’t matter who is having sex with who as long as it is based on the good aspects of human nature.
Sometimes I get stupid responses if I am for example showing my work at a tattoo convention. Those events are arranged to attract a large variety of people so some of those people might react differently to my artworks. Usually it is a group of young men walking by, and I can tell that in this little group perhaps emotions and intimacy are not discussed and talked about, and one of them usually calls out ”Hey, look! A pussy!” Like they never saw one before.
It makes me giggle and I am amused by the sheer insecurity in those little male groups – not that it is something that I think is funny that it exists, this insecurity. It is the root to ugly things like misogyny and homophobia and that is not really a laughing matter. It’s rather that they think they are so cool and so in control as men, and then they blurt out ”Hey! Pussy!”. It’s like they are dropping their pants in a way.
So, yes, the reactions are almost one hundred percent positive.
On your blog you write that, exactly as the ancient shunga of Edo period, your shunga quench your “intimacy thirst”. Is it still this way or they satisfied other aspects of your life?
The Shunga of Edo period Japan was created mainly as a visual help for male masturbation. Edo (now Tokyo) used to be a city with a huge surplus of single men, especially from the common classes, like construction workers etc.
There was of course prostitution, but many men could not afford it or perhaps didn’t see that as an option. So masturbation was a big thing (as it always is, no matter what people say. Men masturbate a lot, and that is good).
So the shunga only didn’t quench the thirst for immediate physical intimacy but also painted fantasies of relationships with women. A lot of the Shunga portrayed common husband-wife or boyfriend-girlfriend situations. It is often what we cannot have that exited us the most. So in this case it was domestic relationships that was difficult to obtain.
That is partly why Shunga did look like it did for the majority of its production and existence .
As far as for myself, so yes, as a painter of erotic art and in the manner I do things, it satisfies and quenches many thirsts. It also has helped me to see myself more truly and accurately and I have liberated myself from some constraining ideas and emotions.
If you constantly work with depicting erotica in your art you will discover that so many things we assume is ”normal” regarding sex. And I don’t mean the missionary position versus kinky things but rather ideas of how often one should have sex, or how horny one is supposed to be in order to be ” healthy”. I think many people think that having sex all time is the ”normal” way and if not then there’s a problem.
For me, as an artist, there is often other things that satisfy me as much as sex: painting, reading, drinking good wine, great conversations etc. Once you stop separating one behaviour that arouses you from all the other things that also do, then life becomes more whole and real.
Sex with another person, even in an intimate marriage like the one I am part of, well, it comes and goes. We talk a lot about it and don’t feel any panic if the physical sexual part is not always there. Real intimacy is your whole reality, not just sex; it is about sharing your whole you with that whole other person. Forget the separating of the physical from the psychological: if you believe that a separation like that is even possible then you are really a fool in my opinion.
I think about sex the whole time, but not necessarily as a means to an end, to reach orgasm, but rather as an aspect of the true human heart. So it can be so many things; since I am painting erotica all the time one can say that I am kind of always having sex.
Who are the artists, japan or not, who inspires you?
Oh, there are so many! And so may different things. And they change and shift all the time. Perhaps it is best if I just blurt out a sort of chaotic list of what affects and inspires me right now?
Here we go:
Katsuchika Hokusai, Kawanabe Kyosai, Kitagawa Utamaro, Yamaoka Tesshu, Ito Jakuchu, Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, Uemura Shoen, Hashida Shunso, Ikenaga Yasunari, Tetsuya Noguchi, Miho Hirano, Beni Kochiji, Yuji Moriguchi, Toshiyuki Enoki, Masaaki Sasamoto, Reiko Yamasaki, Gustav Klimt, Alphonse Mucha, John Williams Waterhouse, John Singer Sargent, James McNeill Whistler, Van Gogh, John Everett Millais, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Caravaggio, Carl Larsson, Hilma af Klint and many more.
These are the artists I frequently look at and steal as much as humanly possible from. But there are some many other things that influence my work. Especially Kimono and Kimono patterns. Japanese fabrics are a never ending source for inspiration.
It is in fact my goal to stop wearing western clothing and cross over to kimono and other forms of Japanese clothing all together. Western dress is very uncomfortable and it was a long time ago since western fashion displayed any kind of dignity or true poetic beauty.
I kons that people are going to stare and think I am some kind of strange person but I like to give no fucks about thing like that. I tell my children to honestly try not to be ”normal” since that is the first step of eradicating your own self. Nothing good will come out of that at all.
Have social-network help or complicate sharing your art?
Well, Instagram has of course been very important for me. Without IG it would have been difficult to even attempt crossing over from tattooing full time to painting full time.
On the other hand, Instagram has these very blunt and strange moral rules about art and it is a constant worry that my account will be deleted.
I regularly have post deleted by them and end up being shadow banned for weeks o end.
This of course hampers my ability to grow my following. New followers means new opportunities to sell prints and I desperately have to put food on the table since I have a family.
I have experimented with softly censoring myself but that is no fun and the followers doesn’t really appreciate that. So maybe I will start advertising about my back up account more and just take my chances with being deleted.
You also write a lot. How writing and painting are linked together?
I love to write but do it way to seldom. I actually feel that writing is the creative outlet that I am best at. I also love painting and time is limited-
Writing is a way for me to tell my viewers about my intentions and visions around my paintings. I do have an agenda with my work.
As with everything else, I am always out to change the world. That might sound like a pompous and perhaps futile goal but I believe that many small changes will lead to big change.
One big bang of change rarely leads to anything constructive.
So if I want to change how masculinity and male culture sees and treats women I have a great opportunity if I use images and words together. I mean, who doesn’t like to watch erotic paintings (except perhaps Instagram and fearfully religious people) and if I can get somebody to view my work the step is not far to get them to read about it as well: that is where I really get a chance to discuss serious issues, like a clever mix och cocks, pussies and fucking paired with poetry, intellect and politics.
I love that combination. I also feel that being too confrontational leads only to more polarisation.
All change must come from within and many times slowly. I call myself a feminist and truly believe that the issue of women’s rights and equality is at the core of almost anything else that is wrong.
I usually get a lot of shit from men for saying it, but it is male culture that is behind most of the bad things in the world and we need to balance and change that male culture. And only men can change themselves. Also, there is a tendency in the dominant part of male culture to only pay attention to what other men say, so I see it as a calling to be a man that tell other men which way to go in order to make the world a better place for everybody.
Do you have any future project you can anticipate us?
Right now I am working on new pieces for a group exhibition in Tokyo, Japan if December this year. I am very exited about this and I am of course suffering a lot because of that. What to paint? Will they like it? That sort of thinking plagues me all the time.
I am also thinking a lot about where to take my future work. I want to explore more themes like gay, lesbian, bi and transexual ones. Of course I will also paint a lot of ”normal” erotica. But mixing all these things up seems exiting and by doing so, by making it more ”normal” to do so, perhaps some people being aggressive towards what is not ”normal” will slowly change their minds.
The important thing is to keep the heart in it at all times. I don’t want to paint common cock in pussy things. That is the difference between porn and erotica I think: the intention of the image, not necessarily what it portrays.
You can paint very hard anal sex in very graphic way and still call it erotica. It the heart is sin it.
I also want more and more people to see my work so I am thinking about how to get the opportunity to exhibit my work more. Meeting the viewers in person and talking with them about my art is perhaps the best part of being a painter of sex.