Katsushika Hokusai was born on 1760 and died on 1849. He is famous for his nickname Hokusai or “old crazy painter”. He was a painter, a drawer specialist of “ukiyo-e” which is a Japanese term which means “floating image of the world”, it’s a Japanese artistic movement of the Edo age (1603-1868) which includes a popular and narrative original painting but also Japenese engraving on wood.
Since my chilhood, I have had his most famous Japenese engraving in my kitchen : “The big wave of Kanagawa” . This work is actually exhibited in the Metropolitann Museum of Art in New York. Hokusai showed it around 1830. I am fond of this painting, it represents a huge wave ready to crash on three little barks which carry fish. In the background, we can see mount Fuji, the most popular volcano in Japan. We can confuse it with the troubled sea. This painting represents a daily scene in the 19th century in Japan. Indeed, this country lived off fishing during all the 19th century.
We can notice the use of the “Prussian blue” (the dark blue in the painting) which is a new ink imported in Japan. Hokusai used it to depict the movement of the waves, the costumes of the fishermen and also the basis of the Fuji mount. This colour gives some contrast; we can distinguish the difference between the dark blue of the sea and the foam produced by the battering of the sea.
Moreover, there is the presence of an allegory in Hokusai’s work. Indeed, the sky seems to be very quiet and celestial. The tones used to reprensent it are pale colours : beige and white. This part of the engraving is a reference to the “yin”, the luminous forces; whereas the bottom of the painting is the “yang”, the brutal forces. The yin and the yang have been the symbols of the Chinese philosophy since a long time. We can realise that the mass of the water is opposed to the rest of the image, in a balance almost completed by height and by space, creating two fitted symmetrical forms.
In addition, this print has inspired a famous logo for a brand of sports clothes, Quicksilver. But in the re-interpretation, the mountain seems to be more impressive than in the original engraving, finding itself almost equal with the mass of water :
There is currently an Hokusai’s exposition at “the Grand Palais” in the 8th arrondissement in Paris. The exhibition seems to be very interesting; there is a lot of original Japenese engravings on wood. Hokusai’s art is exotic and I think that it’s a great thing to discover the Japenese culture through its art.