October 17, 2009

The Art of Katsushika Hokusai

Katsushika Hokusai (1760 - 1849) was born to an artisan family in the Katsushika district of Edo, which is now modern Tokyo, also referred to as the Edo period. He was a towering figure in the field of ukiyo-e, a genre of Japanese woodblock printmaking. He also excelled in all areas of painting and his outstanding images are known all over the world.

(Hokusai, Katsushika. The Great Wave off Shore of Kanagawa. c. 1826. woodblock print, British Museum, London UK.)

The Great Wave off Shore of Kanagawa is a print is from the series, Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji and it has an extraordinary composition. Here, Hokusai clearly emphasizes the great power of nature versus the volatility of human existence.

(Hokusai, Katsushika. Hodogaya on the Takaido. c. 1830.
polychrome woodblock print.)

Hokusai started his career as a print designer, depicting actors and beautiful women, but he never confined himself to one genre. He also created book illustrations, produced privately commissioned luxury paintings and prints, including popular landscapes.

(Hokusai, Katsushika. Mount Fuji in Clear Weather. c. 1830.
woodblock print, British Museum, London UK.)

Mount Fuji in clear weather is a simple yet striking image of Japan’s most sacred mountain, designed by Hokusai after he was well into his seventies. With the success of this series, he managed to make landscape prints popular as standalone works of art.

(Hokusai, Katsushika. The Dragon Smoke Escaping from Mount Fuji. c. 1849. painting on silk.)

Hokusai was an eccentric man. He changed his professional name over thirty times, moved his household ninety times and despite his fame, was always poor. Prior to his death, he left over thirty thousand designs, including two hundred and fifty books, three thousand five hundred single sheet prints, many original drawings, many paintings and his work is much appreciated here!

Enjoy :)

Reference: King, R. Art. New York: Dk Publishing, 2008.