Thursday, October 16, 2014

Paris Journal IV: Hokusai

The Great Wave off Kanagawa by Hokusai
The 18th Century Japanese artist Hokusai was discovered by a French artist named Felix Bracquemond during the same period of time when France and Japan signed the trade pact of 1858. His work derived from the ukiyo-e or “pictures of  the floating world” movement coeval with Japan’s Edo period. “Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji” is perhaps Hokosai’s most famous series, though as the current show at the Grand Palais illustrates he produced one of the most monumental oeuvres in the history of art— a particularly mind boggling achievement considering the meticulousness and complexity of his drawing and etching styles. The curators remark, “it is obvious that contrary to standard practice, his landscape prints were not based on clearly identifiable sites but explored the transformation of a chosen motif.” “The Great Wave off Kanagawa” is the most famous work of the Mount Fuji series and when you see the dominance of the wave in the foreground of a picture which includes Mount Fuji, it’s obvious the impact that his artistic technique had in catalyzing the Japonisme or Japanophilia that so influenced l9th century French artists. It’s significant that Bracquemond, as an advocate of Hokusai, was part of a circle that included Millet, Corot, Degas and Rodin. If there were protomodernist elements to Hokusai style, his modernity was also characterized by self-invention. In the beginning of his career, when he painted actors, he adopted the name of Katsukawa Shunro, whose studio he worked in. From 1794-1805, he changed his name to Sosi. He then changed it from Hokusai which meant “man mad about drawing,” to Katsushika Hokusai. In 1834 he began to employ Gakyo Rojin Manji which means “The Old Man Mad About Art.” Apparently, he used a total of 30 different names by the end of his life. Here is Hokusai’s artist credo, “From the time I was 6, I was in the habit of sketching things I saw around me, and around the age of 50, I began to work in earnest, producing numerous designs. It was not until my 70th year, however, that I produced anything of significance. At the age of 73, I began to grasp the underlying structure of birds and animals, insects and fish, and the way trees and plants grow. Thus {if I keep up my efforts}, I will have even a better understanding when I was 80 and by 90 will have penetrated to the heart of things. At 100, I may reach a level of divine understanding, and if I live decades beyond that, everything I paint—dot and line—will be alive.” Hoskusai was 89 when he died in 1849.

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