Madonna Fukushima by Chris Shaw

On July 16, 2011, in Art, Paintings, by Chris Shaw

Madonna Fukushima by Chris Shaw (Visible Light)

Madonna Fukushima by Chris Shaw
March – June, 2011
Acrylic on canvas
9′ x 11′


I watched the Japan earthquake and Tsunami live on television March 11, 2011. Like many, I was completely awestruck by the utter destruction I witnessed, but for some reason could not turn away. I’ll never forget the images of the tsunami hitting the Japanese mainland and entire towns being washed away. It was certainly Nature’s fury at its worst. I was extremely saddened and felt awful for all the people whose lives were affected or lost.

Then came the news of an incident at the Fukushima nuclear plant. At once I realized that there was something extremely wrong and scary happening there. Over the next days I again watched in horror as 3 of the reactors exploded and melted down, with a 4th in peril. I actually heard some “expert” say that the reactor buildings were designed to explode… “Don’t Worry”. There were massive radiation releases, but again the world was told that there was no problem, nothing was out of control. To me the situation looked very much out of control. As of this writing , Fukushima remains far from being stable or under control, it is a monumental catastrophe for Japan, the environment, and the world as a whole.

I felt that Fukushima had (has) the potential to be an even worse disaster for Japan than the earthquake and tsunami, the main difference being that Fukushima is a man-made catastrophe. For several years I have been wanting to explore the concept of “Man’s Dominion Over Nature,” or more specifically, how ridiculous I think that idea is. The earthquake, tsunami, and Fukushima served up the concept on a silver platter.

Immediately I knew I would need to appropriate a Japanese style for my image. Edo Period art and Hokusai’s “Wave” painting immediately came to mind. I also wanted to include a Bonsai tree as a symbol of Man’s Dominion Over Nature. I wanted to incorporate a female figure, in a classic Edo style but to construct her -almost- as a Madonna, who is facing forward, but looking backward. Of course, a representation of the Fukushima nuclear plant would need to be included as well.

Madonna Fukushima by Chris Shaw (Mixed Light)

Over the course of a few weeks I explored thousands of Japanese prints online in the Library of Congress and elsewhere, ultimately selecting a group of source material that contained the themes and types of images I was looking for. I then built a digital collage using appropriated parts and elements from various Edo period prints. Specifically, I mainly worked from imagery created by Hiroshige, Sadakage, Sadahide, and Toyokuni.  All are artists whom I grew to admire during my exploration of Edo art.

Since the situation at Fukushima was evolving as I painted this piece, the nuclear plant was added at the very end to represent the actual status of the facility. I elected to include the classic cooling towers of a nuclear plant since they are such a strong symbol of nuclear power even though Fukushima doesn’t actually have such towers.

Madonna Fukushima by Chris Shaw (black light)

Currently at the SFMOMA Garage Windows: Ron Donovan, Chris Shaw, and Chuck Sperry, June 11, 2011 – January 12, 2012, 147 Minna and 150 Natoma Streets

Chris Shaw: Madonna Fukushima featured on SFMOMA Artist’s Gallery blog









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One Response to Madonna Fukushima by Chris Shaw

  1. Dire Wolf says:
    I love this painting Chris, fantastic work!

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