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Senju’s Waterfall for Chicago



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Cascades of white pigment rhythmically stream across the panels of a pair of folding screens.

Against a black background, white pigment streams down from the top and splashes and puddles at the bottom.

Waterfall, 2019


Under a combination of white light and UV lighting, the works evocatively express the force and motion of falling water.

These enchanting painted screens are the work and a gift of Senju (born 1958), a contemporary proponent of Nihonga, traditional Japanese painting. Known for his signature Waterfall works, Senju created the panels on view at the Art Institute specifically for the museum’s Gallery 109, the space designed by architect Andō Tadao. Thinking of the exhibition as a collaboration between himself and the architect through time, Senju tailored the scale and lighting to best suit this distinctive space.

The artist reaches across a small model of the museum's Ando Gallery, with miniature versions of his paintings visible in the model. The actual works can be seen in the studio in the background.

Senju shows a model of his works for the Andō Gallery in his studio.

To create his works, Senju carefully mixes his own pigments, a practice that ties him to traditional approaches, but the artist uses a unique and modern combination of fluorescent pigment and acrylic. Also in keeping with tradition, Senju uses the folding screen as his medium, but unconventionally, he pours the paint from the top of the screen, relinquishing control to let the materials show their true nature and beauty. Then the artist uses an airbrush to create the distinctive effect of water spraying in mist and droplets. 

Senju’s experiential installations resonate with audiences worldwide. He is internationally recognized for his installations at Benesse Art Site Naoshima in Japan and the Venice Biennale, among other locations. It was in Venice in 1995 that he first premiered his Waterfall paintings to great acclaim. Since then, he has completed several commissions, notably for Haneda Airport in Tokyo and most recently Kongōbuji temple on Kōyasan.


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