Let’s talk about one of the greatest Japanese artists, Katsushika Hokusai. He lived both in the 18th and 19th centuries and was an illustrator and artist of Ukiyo-e of the Edo period. He is also one of the most famous representatives of Japanese and engravings in the West, a master of the final period of Japanese xylography. He played an important role in the popularization of engravings in the genre of Surinomo. This was a kind of a greeting card popular among noble people. Hokusai lived for almost 90 years and created his best work when he was about 70 years old. Many of his creations are in the katsushikahokusai.org online gallery.
1. Origins of the artist
Hokusai was born into a craftsman’s family in a poor urban suburb. The father of the family in which the boy grew and was brought up was a manufacturer of mirrors for the shogun. However, he didn’t become the heir to his father. The artist`s biography researcher suggests this happened because Hokusai was a foster son in this family. In Japan, there was such a practice among poor families not able to provide for the food and education of the child. They sent children to other families, where they were brought up and received an education and profession. Thus, little Hokusai, named Tokitaro after birth, got into the Nakajima family at the age of 4-5 years. From the age of six, Katsushika Hokusai began to paint while studying the art of painting mirrors.
Being about 10 years old, he becomes a peddler of books in a bookstore. Biographers suggest that the boy decided to work there to learn literacy and Chinese.
After about 3 years, the young man began working as a woodcarver in an engraving workshop. He was committed to perfectly copying the work of the masters. Right during this period, the development of the cultural sphere and printing in Japan took place. Engravings were becoming very popular, as well as designs on fabrics and greeting cards.
At the age of 18, Hokusai became a student of the famous Ukiyo-e artist Katsukawa Shunsho. He was known for his portraits of Kabuki actors. During this period, Hokusai painted a series of arranged theater portraits, and also began his seventy-year journey in the world of art. The cycles of his work brought him incredible fame. They have been reprinted so many times that the original wooden boards used in printing have lost their original appearance.
2. Changed nicknames and often moved
In Japan, it was customary to change names, which was a symbol of change in life or work. But Hokusai surpassed everyone. He took more than 30 pseudonyms that symbolized different periods of his work or a new topic. But the key name given to him by the admirers was The Old Man Obsessed with Painting.
Head of the snake woman
As often the artist changed his names, as often he liked to change his habitat. He was not committed to cleanliness and order. And he preferred to stay in one place exactly until everything was covered with dust and dirt, overgrown with mountains of garbage. This was the impetus for the next move to a new clean place of work and life.
3. Hokusai art
He was a master of fine art, Ukiyo-e prints, woodcuts. Also, he was excellent in portraiture, landscapes, genre works, and book illustrations.
Hokusai loved to create massive paintings and made a whole performance out of it. So, at the Edo festival, he used a broom instead of a brush. The result of his work was a 180-meter portrait of a Buddhist monk.
Besides huge works, the artist created masterpieces in a smaller format. He was a designer of toy prints, illustrated board games, literary books.
But the most famous work was the series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji. The author was inspired by a religious board game. Hokusai depicted the pilgrim’s route between Edo and nearby religious sites.
Back of Mount Fuji from Minobu River
This is the most famous engraving of the author from the mentioned series. Fuji covered in snow contrasts with the deep blue horizon. It seems like a tiny hill compared to an overhanging powerful wave. This series is known for the wave painting.
Hokusai’s works had a huge commercial success. Even today they are highly very valued, despite the several thousand copies created.
The Great Wave with Kanagawa (Kanagawa oki nami-ura)
There is no limit to perfection
Hokusai was an avid perfectionist and that no doubt made him so successful. He couldn’t rest until he brought his work to perfection and was always in search of ideal lines and compositional solutions.
As the artist himself said, from the age of six he learned to draw, by the age of 50 he had reached productivity and published many drawings. But none of this is worthy of attention compared to what he did after his 70 years. Hokusai believed that he understood the structure of animals and insects, the life of plants. He dreamed of working far in a hundred years. But life has made its adjustments. When he was 73 years old, the fire destroyed all the work and even the artist’s workshop. This coincided with the popularity of the new masters of woodcutting and gradually Hokusai went into oblivion. Yet, until the end of his days, Hokusai remained faithful to art and continued to create.