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Monday, 15 March 2010

The Great Wave off Kanagawa...


japanese art Pictures, Images and Photos
How time flies while the waves, weeks and hours ebb and flow, non?!...
It's been a long winter, hasn't it? I've never known snow fall in March.
And so, I pulled pieces of this article together more than a year ago, during a BBC documentary concerning The Private Life of a Masterpiece. Please forgive the more pseudo-ivory-tower feel of my bloglette today, mes chip butties, but I love this iconic piece of art and used it as inspiration for the first piece of stained glass I ever designed...
This depicts a big fish, possibly a whale, caught between the towering heart-shaped curls of two giant waves in Prussian Blue.
Did you know that, the artist of THE GREAT WAVE, Katsushika Hokusa, was adopted into a family of mirror makers?

japan great wave Pictures, Images and Photos

The print is now over 170 years old, with much relevance still for our century, of global losses and wins, of waves and loss, amidst landslides and tsunami...

And did you know that the original no longer exists, only the print?

This is a piece of art that has been lampooned in its time, and stands to serve for all of Japanese art, while it isn't really perceived to be representative of Japan at all by those who live there...

In the early nineteenth century, the artist was apprenticed to a well-known artist at an early age, and became adept at flower paintings and Erotica - Pillow Books, among other things...

At a time in his life, believing his best work was behind him, a series of events created the need for him to return to work to create his masterpiece, his legacy - His wife died, his grandson gambled away all his savings, leaving the artist penniless.
He left home with his daughter to live in a temple, and he went back to what he knew best, with renewed energies. The Great Wave was his sun, his moon and his stars. Within it we see the devastating powers of nature, and the relative insignificance of man in the face of nature...

(My husband loves reading the New Scientist and, did you know, in modern science, great waves like this do exist - this is not a Tsunami, a freak wave... Only recently have seamen reporting such terrible waves actually been believed... It is likely that this was a large okinami, an ocean wave).

There had been a distinct tradition of Japanese art for hundreds of years - Called the 'Floating World' (1600 - 1867) - This period invoked art involving sensual indulgence, pleasure-seeking and hedonism: The moon, cherry blossoms, maples, sumo wrestlers and samurai, floating, wine, women, geishas and prostitutes, all evoking a motiveless, rudderless way of life.

All were Edo period symbols of living life in the moment... Of rising at a time of economic boom - This pertained to the citizens' culture... A closed society those who had, and those who had-not...

Kabuki Pictures, Images and Photos

Images of actors also covered walls in many homes, the Kabuki was very popular - Theatre and what lay on the surface was all - Actors' images were sold cheaply as posters and graced the homes of beautiful women and geishas alike - These were also the female pin ups of the day...

kabuki Pictures, Images and Photos

At this stage, Japan had been cut off from the rest of the world. Examples of Western Art came in to the country via the ports at Nagasaki, and the Dutch East India Company - The printer may have studied European prints and engravings, beginning to copy the work and style, even the medium, in some of his works - Learning from oils, and seeing European perspectives in a Japanese setting.
He developed a series of prints showing little waves on beaches with fashionably dressed people enjoying the scene. Waves were to feature in his works for the next thirty years...

In a staggering concept to make some money, landscapes featuring Mount Fuji became very popular, however, the printer's publisher reaped most of the rewards, knowing what would sell to Joe Public, Hokusai's 36 Views of Mt. Fuji in all weathers and seasons, from all viewpoints and perspectives...

These images attracted tourists seeking Picture Postcards of the Divine Mountain - Deemed to be a deity. There were the religious buyers and ordinary folk, farmers, fishermen, wives, servants... Ordinary people. Those with Buddhist beliefs saw oarsmen, going with the flow of life, not fighting the wave. Were they dreaming on mortality?

This print came towards the portent of the end of the Floating World, with its 'too good to last' lifestyle, and disaster waiting around the corner...
Utagawa Toyokuni: Color woodcut
It had as its gimmick, its Unique Selling Point if you like, a newly imported pigment which did not fade, Prussian Blue. In the print you can see a variety of shapes, a number of circles and triangles being projected into the picture - To the viewer it seems as if we are looking through a telescope...

The work might have only taken minutes to execute in draft, blocking out every single line, then sticking the image face down on a cherry wood printing block, the paper was then peeled away with the image remaining stuck on the wood, to be carved out by the carver. Hence, the original drawing does not survive the process...

japanese Pictures, Images and Photos
Other colour blocks would then be cut, and printed one by one, so as to be overlaid and to bring the whole design together...

This print influenced impressionists who also owned the print and features from it crop up in many of their paintings...

I wonder when art historians, and ordinary people from the future, look at much of the art of today, such as Tracey Emin's tent and Damien Hirst's pickled half-calf, what stories will they tell of our throw-away and materialistic, hedonistic society?
...I wonder.
Please feel free to tell me what turns you on about art, mes bloggy Rembrandts?

3 comments:

Jan said...

Fhina my love for me art is an escape into the artists world away from the humdrum of my today. I like to lose myself in the colour and light of different worlds and try to see (impossible I know) what the artist was seeing when they formed their piece be it in paint , sculpture or other media. We all have something of the artist about us and life gives us our choice of wonderful media to use - to be individual.

slommler said...

I hope to create a space that the viewer can come and see light and color. A piece that has a unique point of view. One that will take the viewer into another world altogether. An escape if you will; if at least for a moment. To bring joy and imaginings of what is to be. Or what was? Pondering and learning from line, texture, color and shape. Experiencing a state of being.
Art lives to titillate and to educate and to also cause confusion. It is quite an experience to view a piece.
Hugs
SueAnn

carma said...

the whole freak wave thing freaks me out - especially after seeing the footage from that cruise ship a few weeks ago. hope you are doing well :-)

Something I wrote earlier...

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