Japanese artist, ukiyo-e* painter and printmaker of the Edo** period
Katsushika Hokusai [葛飾 北斎]
October 31, 1760
in the Katsushika district of Edo [now Tokyo], Japan
Hokusai is best known as author of the woodblock print series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji, which includes the internationally iconic print, The Great Wave off Kanagawa.
Both Hokusai’s choice of art name and frequent depiction of Mount Fuji stem from his religious beliefs. The name Hokusai means “North Studio (room)”, an abbreviation of Hokushinsai or “North Star Studio”. Hokusai was a member of the Nichiren sect of Buddhism, who see the North Star as associated with the deity Myōken. Mount Fuji has traditionally been linked with eternal life. This belief can be traced to The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, where a goddess deposits the elixir of life on the peak.
Hokusai had a long career, but he produced most of his important work after age 60. His most popular work is the ukiyo-e series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji, which was created between 1826 and 1833. It actually consists of 46 prints (10 of them added after initial publication).
In addition, Hokusai is responsible for the 1834 One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji, a work which “is generally considered the masterpiece among his landscape picture books”. His ukiyo-e transformed the art form from a style of portraiture focused on the courtesans and actors popular during the Edo period in Japan’s cities into a much broader style of art that focused on landscapes, plants, and animals.
Hokusai had achievements in various fields as an artist. He made designs for book illustrations and woodblock prints, sketches, and painting for over 70 years. He was an early experimenter with western linear perspective among Japanese artists. Hokusai himself was influenced by Sesshū Tōyō and other styles of Chinese painting.
His influences stretched across the globe to his western contemporaries in nineteenth-century Europe with Japonism, which started with a craze for collecting Japanese art, particularly ukiyo-e, of which some of the first samples were to be seen in Paris, when in about 1856, the French artist Félix Bracquemond first came across a copy of the sketchbook Hokusai Manga at the workshop of his printer. He influenced Art Nouveau, or Jugendstil in Germany, and the larger Impressionism movement, with themes echoing his work appearing in the work of Claude Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. According to the Brooklyn Rail, “many artists collected his woodcuts: Degas, Gauguin, Klimt, Franz Marc, August Macke, Manet, and van Gogh.” Hermann Obrist’s whiplash motif, or Peitschenhieb, which came to exemplify the new movement, is visibly influenced by Hokusai’s work.
During my art / design studies, in one of our projects, we had to imitate a great painter technique. I chose Hokusai. I might have added it, but good fortune prevented me from finding it 😉 !!! It was quite an experience and I ended up admiring him even more!!!!
*Ukiyo-e [“picture[s] of the floating world”] is a genre of painting and printmaking that developed in the late 17th century, at first depicting the entertainments of the pleasure districts of Edo, such as courtesans and kabuki actors. Harunobu produced the first full-colour nishiki-e prints in 1765, a form that has become synonymous to most with ukiyo-e. The genre reached a peak in technique towards the end of the century with the works of such artists as Kiyonaga and Utamaro. As the Edo period came to an end a great diversity of genres proliferated: warriors, nature, folklore, and the landscapes of Hokusai and Hiroshige. The genre declined throughout the rest of the century in the face of modernization that saw ukiyo-e as both old-fashioned and laborious to produce compared to Western technologies. Ukiyo-e was a primary part of the wave of Japonisme that swept Western art in the late 19th century.
Its artists produced woodblock prints and paintings of such subjects as female beauties; kabuki actors and sumo wrestlers; scenes from history and folk tales; travel scenes and landscapes; flora and fauna; and erotica. The term ukiyo-e translates as “picture[s] of the floating world”.
**The Edo period or Tokugawa period is the period between 1603 and 1868 in the history of Japan, when Japan was under the rule of the Tokugawa shogunate and the country’s 300 regional daimyō. The period was characterized by economic growth, strict social order, isolationist foreign policies, a stable population, “no more wars”, and popular enjoyment of arts and culture. The shogunate was officially established in Edo on March 24, 1603, by Tokugawa Ieyasu. The period came to an end with the Meiji Restoration on May 3, 1868, after the fall of Edo.
So here’s a glimpse of his work & very few but truly wise words
“From around the age of six, I had the habit of sketching from life. I became an artist, and from fifty on began producing works that won some reputation, but nothing I did before the age of seventy was worthy of attention. At seventy-three, I began to grasp the structures of birds and beasts, insects and fish, and of the way plants grow. If I go on trying, I will surely understand them still better by the time I am eighty-six, so that by ninety I will have penetrated to their essential nature. At one hundred, I may well have a positively divine understanding of them, while at one hundred and thirty, forty, or more I will have reached the stage where every dot and every stroke I paint will be alive. May Heaven, that grants long life, give me the chance to prove that this is no lie.”
“I prefer poverty to having someone walk all over me.”
“All I have produced before the age of seventy is not worth taking into account. At seventy-three I have learned a little about the real structure of nature, of animals, plants, trees, birds, fishes and insects. In consequence when I am eighty, I shall have made still more progress. At ninety I shall penetrate the mystery of things; at one hundred I shall certainly have reached a marvelous stage; and when I am a hundred and ten, everything I do, be it a dot or a line, will be alive. I beg those who live as long as I to see if I do not keep my word. Written at the age of seventy five by me, once Hokusai, today Gwakyo Rojin, the old man mad about drawing.”
“Learn to cultivate the trait of humility. None of us are perfect. We all make mistakes — both in our personal lives and our artistic creations. It takes a lifetime to become a master and even then we may not achieve that designation. Be thankful for what you have been given and seek to be humble.”
Prior to his death, Hokusai was said to have remarked:
If the son of heaven retains my life five years longer, I will become a true artisan.
His last poem reads:
My soul makes a trip in the summer field.