Japanese artist Hokusai exhibition in London

This video from Britain says about itself:

Hokusai: Beyond the Great Wave

18 May 2017

As a new exhibition dedicated to Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai opens at the British Museum in London, this film explores the legacy and impact of his most iconic image, the Great Wave, and asks why it has such appeal.

By Christine Lindey in England:

Navigator of a floating world

Saturday 10th June 2017

CHRISTINE LINDEY pays tribute to the artistic journey of Japanese printmaker Katsushika Hokusai, a seminal figure in the development of modernism

AT THE age of 75, Katsushika Hokusai wrote that he’d drawn since the age of six and had long been successful but, until the age of 70, “nothing I drew was worthy of notice. At 73 years I was somewhat able to fathom the growth of trees and plants and the structure of birds, animals, insects and fish.”

And he hoped to go on to see further into “the underlying principle of things.”

The thoughtfully curated exhibition Beyond the Great Wave, now on at the British Museum, wisely focuses on his last three decades, in which Hokusai (1760-1849) did indeed produce his best works.

He had inauspicious beginnings. Born into a working-class district of Edo in Japan, he was adopted in childhood by a mirror maker and put to work as a bookshop’s delivery boy when six years old.

But in his mid-teens he was apprenticed to a woodcut printer and he was carving entire wood blocks by the age of 16. Two years later Katsukawa Shunsho, a leading Ukiyo-e (Floating World) artist, took him as his pupil. Hokusai worked as a commercial artist for the rest of his life.

In his mid-thirties, after years of hardship, success came his way with many commissions from prestigious patrons. Over his lengthy life, amazingly prolific, he produced 3,000 colour prints, illustrations to over 200 books, hundreds of surviving drawings and nearly 1,000 paintings.

Although technically highly accomplished, Hokusai’s earlier works, such as Boy’s Festival of 1826, are emotionally and spiritually reticent and lack the spontaneity of his late ones.

Yet their superb draughtsmanship, based on acute observation, and their delicate sensibility foretell the mastery of later works such as The Great Wave of Kanagawa of 1831.

Known as The Great Wave, it is now famous worldwide, yet few may know it as one of his print series, Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji. Published in 1834 and 1835, confusingly it actually numbers 46.

In Hokusai’s lifetime this sacred mountain was a popular object of spiritual veneration. It was one of his personal talismans and, as a Nichiren Buddhist, he believed that humans commune through such images.

For the Mount Fuji series, Hokusai travelled around many diverse districts overlooked by the mountain. Sometimes barely visible, sometimes dominant, he depicted it as a sage witnessing all manner of human and animal life and natural phenomena below.

Whether overlooking human hardship or joy, or nature’s benign or ferocious moods, the mountain remains impassive, permanent, enduring and serene, be it covered in snow, rising above sudden torrential rain or bathed in balmy sunlight.

Most Mount Fuji prints include empathic scenes of everyday life. We see farm workers, pilgrims, fisherfolk, samurai, ferrymen or travellers. Not forgetting his humble roots, Hokusai often depicted peasants and workers carrying heavy loads or battling with the elements.

In The Great Wave, the stalwart oarsmen in flimsy boats, delivering fish, battle courageously with the ferocious sea.

Thousands of these prints were produced in Hokusai’s day. At about the price of two helpings of noodles, almost everyone could own one. Other series tackled the themes of waterfalls, bridges, flowers, birds, fish and imaginary mythical beings and creatures.

Going beyond sensitive descriptions of his subjects, Hokusai’s mature works convey his belief in the interconnectedness of all things and in the balance of opposite forces — the ephemerality of sea spray and the immutability of the mountain, or a limpid cloudspeckled sky above terrifying flashes of lightning.

Hokusai delighted in the challenge of creating static images of the drama and transience of water, that most changeable of elements, in all its forms — from slow snowflakes to churning whirlpools or from sparkling sea spray to driving rain.

Rather than attempting to mimic these, as in European art, he invented marks which equate them — hence the liveliness and seemingly “abstract” squiggles and splatters evoking the edges of waves and the parallel curves and lines depicting rushing waterfalls.

Seeing their decorative potential, he used these in the stunning painted ceiling panels of a festival cart titled Waves and in his Picture Book, a cheaply available manual to advise the young, both of 1848.

Hokusai retained the traditional Japanese purity of line and asymmetrical compositions — often balancing busy patterned areas with “empty” ones — and respect for the flatness of the pictorial surface. Yet he also incorporated European techniques, including perspective, to suggest spatial recession and shading to suggest solidity.

It now seems incredible that dominant European taste long considered such truly great art to be childishly “primitive.” But from the 1860s onwards the avant-garde, from Claude Monet to Vincent Van Gogh, understood that less is more.

Their admiration for the subtlety and economy of means in Japanese prints, including Hokusai’s, laid down the fundamentals of 20th-century modernist art.

This chance to see his original work is not to be missed.

Hokusai: Beyond the Great Wave runs at the British Museum in London until August 13, box office: britishmuseum.org.

To the researchers’ amazement, the wave they created bore an uncanny resemblance to ‘The Great Wave off Kanagawa’ — also known as ‘The Great Wave’ — a woodblock print published in the early 1800s by the Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai. Hokusai’s image depicts an enormous wave threatening three fishing boats and towers over Mount Fuji which appears in the background. Hokusai’s wave is believed to depict a freak, or ‘rogue’, wave. The laboratory-created freak wave also bears strong resemblances with photographs of freak waves in the ocean. The researchers hope that this study will lay the groundwork for being able to predict these potentially catastrophic and hugely damaging waves that occur suddenly in the ocean without warning: here.

3 thoughts on “Japanese artist Hokusai exhibition in London

  1. Pingback: Birds, flowers in Japanese art, exhibition | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  2. Pingback: Coronavirus crisis, worldwide update | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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