Everyday Problems - The Shunga Series


If you do not wish to see the uncensored artwork of this series, if you are under age or if you have problems with explicit sexual images, please do not scroll down.

„Everyday Problems: The Shunga Series“ is a new series of mostly small format woodcuts, that I started in March 2017. It is very different compared to my main body of work in regards to theme/background and visualization, but not in aesthetics, technique or style. It is a side-project, and to better understand why I use pornographic images in context with written (carved) descriptions of everyday problems, please read the following.  



As some of you may know, I have begun cutting my work into wood years ago inspired by the woodblock prints by Japanese artists from the 17th to 19th century. Already in my youth I have been a big fan of the works of the likes of Hiroshige and Hokusai. My very first woodcuts from around 2010 are a recognizable tribute to this very traditional artform. It came very close to my drawing style and complimented my way of visual storytelling like no other techique I used before in my work. 

However, I quickly moved away from the obvious connection to these great artists and developed my own technique of woodcuts further, experimenting with coloring methods, different tools and advanced woodworking, to create dioramic artworks that are three dimensional wall sculptures. 

This new project „Everyday Problems“ is a step back to get a closer look at one specific era of japanese woodcutting: the explicit erotic artform of SHUNGA. 

Shunga by Katsushika Hokusai, approx. 1835

Shunga by Katsushika Hokusai, approx. 1835

„Shunga is a Japanese term for erotic art. Most shunga are a type of ukiyo-e (art genre that flourished in Japan from the 17th through 19th centuries). It was usually executed in woodblock print format. Translated literally, the Japanese word shunga means picture of spring; „spring“ is a common euphemism for sex.

The ukiyo-e movement as a whole sought to express an idealisation of contemporary urban life and appeal to the new chōnin class of merchants and craftsmen. Following the aesthetics of everyday life, Edo period shunga (1603 to 1867) varied widely in its depictions of sexuality. Almost all ukiyo-e artists made shunga at some point in their careers.“ (Wikipedia)

I highly recommend researching Shunga yourself, there is a lot more to it than the brief description above, from being banned and going underground around 1722 to being renounced in the 70ies as non existent in (western) Museums etc. Also the use of Shunga by the different classes and professions in Japan is an interesting read, not to mention the influence on the whole Manga-culture.


Shunga by an unknown artist, © MAK / Georg Mayer

Shunga by an unknown artist, © MAK / Georg Mayer



Since embarking on my journey into the culture of Japenese woodcutting I was always tempted to engage on my very own Shunga project. It took me some years, not just because pornographic images have not yet played a role in my work and are difficult to exhibit, but also because I wanted to create something meaningful and unique and not just copy an existing art form. 

With the addition of the sub-level of the written „Everyday Problems“, I found a way to expand the pure visual „stimulation“ with a graphic element, but one that on closer read initially seems unrelated. It is not, because even though slightly absurd, the words are the thoughts of the people engaging in the sexual act in the pictures, told from the perspective of a third-person, omniscient narrator. 

The reduction of color is a reference to the limited colors used in the original Shunga prints. Because I outline the picture itself with a frame, the work seems cartoon like in a newspaper style. Here I bow to another one of my all-time heroes in art, Raymond Pettibon, who has been one of my favorite artists and strongest influences for my very early work since proudly holding that copy of Black Flags‘ „Slip It In“ in my hands in the mid-eigthies. When Sonic Youth‘s „Goo“ came out in 1990 I remember going nuts over the cover alone, despite it being an amazing and iconic album - best of both worlds for a music and art enthusiast. At one point in my life I was the proud owner of more or less all the albums featuring cover artwork by master Pettibon. 

The explicit images itself are taken from porn websites, they are usually stills from movies, which makes the imagery itself so exaggerated and extreme. You can find this excessiveness in many Shunga prints as well.  Using standard hardcore pornography is also a comment towards the use of media in our society and the plethora of visual stimulation in our everyday life, but this whole series is created without pointing the finger - after all, Shunga were made to entertain and arouse.


Jörg Heikhaus, March 2017.




If you do not wish to see the uncensored artwork of this series, if you are under age or if you have problems with explicit sexual images, please do not scroll further.


New work will be added as the series moves along.

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