Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Great Wave

A card arrived today from a dear friend of mine. Such a wonderful surprise! Hand written notes are rare these days, especially those that aren't tied to any particular occasion. For me they are quintessentially altruistic - there isn't any pressure for a timely reply (it takes about a fortnight for a mail to reach us from the States) just an acknowledgement that someone was thinking of you.

I read the card, closed it, glanced at the image on it and smiled in delight. "The Great Wave" was greeting me.

The Great Wave at Kanagawa (from a Series of Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji),Katsushika Hokusai (Japanese, 1760–1849)

About a year ago I developed an obsession with Japanese art and constantly talked, read and drew on the subject, thus the choice of the card wasn't accidental. The full title of this painting by Katsushika Hokusai is "Mt. Fuji seen through the waves off Kanagawa" but it is better known as "The Great Wave".

He was quite a character this Katsushika Hokusai, which by the way wasn't his real name. He was quarrelsome, aggessive, and absolutely brilliant. An artist through and through he left more than 30,000 works behind.

Hokusai started the series "Thirty -six Views of Mt. Fuji" when he was already seventy-two. He experimented with new blue - Prussian blue there, which was quite an expensive novelity at his time. He marveled at the clarity of the colour and searched for the new ways of expressing shades and depth. "The Great Wave" became one of the most recognizable images in Japanese paintings and its impact reached beyond the visual arts - Debussy was inspired by it to write his three "symphonic sketches", La Mer, and it said that Rilke used it as an inspiration while writing "The Mountain".

I'll leave you with these words of the artist:

"From the age of six I had a mania for drawing the shapes of things. When I was fifty I had published a universe of designs. but all I have done before the age of seventy is not worth bothering with. At seventy five I'll have learned something of the pattern of nature, of animals, of plants, of trees, birds, fish and insects. When I am eighty you will see real progress. At ninety I shall have cut my way deeply into the mystery of life itself. At a hundred I shall be a marvelous artist. At a hundred and ten everything I create; a dot, a line, will jump to life as never before. To all of you who are going to live as long as I do, I promise to keep my word. I am writing this in my old age. I used to call myself Hokosai, but today I sign my self 'The Old Man Mad About Drawing." -- Hokusai Hokusai (1760-1849)

Image courtesy of

No comments: