BEYOND THE GREAT WAVE: HOKUSAI
"Since the age of six, I had the mania for drawing the shape of objects.About the age of fifty I had published an infinite number of drawings, but all I produced before the age of seventy was not worthy of being counted. It was at the age of seventy-three that I understood roughly the structure of true nature, of animals, grasses, trees, birds, fish, and insects. -Hokusai
He made an entire world fall in love with a volcano in Japan. He invaded the psyche of art lovers and collectors who went to the ends of the earth to own an Ukiyo-e print that illustrated The Great Wave or limpid landscapes of Mt Fuji in different climes and latitudes of latticed light. To look at a Hokusai print is to be drawn into the rudiments of drawing – to understand that great art happens only when we study how to represent or translate nature into quasi-abstract inventions that catch the gaze of millions anywhere on the globe.
To imagine a Japanese master painting at the age of 70 and being obsessed with the power of the line to create 36 views of Mt Fuji testimony to a persevering patience and dogmatic obsession. Scholars state that Hokusai was drunk with drawing and he was a master of light and shade and the optical illusions that nature can bestow upon us.
The British Museum in London opens the first exhibition in the UK to focus on the later years of the life and art of Hokusai, featuring his iconic print 'The Great Wave' of 1831 and continuing to the sublime painted works produced right up to his death at the age of 90.
Supported by Mitsubishi Corporation 'Hokusai: Beyond the Great Wave' provides new insight into the prodigiously productive last thirty years of Hokusai's life and art from around 1820 to 1849. The exhibition adopts a new approach to explore Hokusai's later career in thematic as well as chronological terms. The exhibition sheds light on Hokusai's personal beliefs and his spiritual and artistic quest through major paintings, drawings, woodblock prints and illustrated books. Many have never been seen before in the UK and can only be displayed for a limited length of time.
Nothing can beat the iconicity of the "Great Wave," 1981, the frothy pearl like droplets embellishing the huge tsunami like wave as if they are a necklace of moisture laden stories even as the boat dwelling travellers watch the wave in all its might and bountiful beauty. And in the background the triangular Mt Fuji is the lone witness to nature's splendour and surreal supremacy.
Of 36 views of Mt Fuji each view is a study in the subtle kinetics of light and shade, especially those in which the peak stands as a solitary sentinel bathed in rosy or rust red sunsets. Hokusai was a master of modelling, his "Clear Day with a Southern Breeze" 1831, personifies Mt Fuji as an icon of great verve and resonant beauty.
"The waterfall where Yoshitsune washed his horse in Yoshino," Yamato province from Tour of Water fall sin Various Provinces is a delectable colour woodblock, created in 1833. The flowing waterfall and the grassy patches that look almost like velvet sponges along with the image of the horse being washed is a tender moment from Japanese tales,it is filled with nostalgia and the beauty of the narrative in realism.
Then there is 'Waves' – a panel from which the water drops are rendered perfectly flat, almost like a dazzling marbled entity. The downpour is rendered like pulsing veins of a body, and makes us think of tightly folded drapery. Either way Hokusai has landed us a wholly new universe of representation. Unforgettable is the ash grey and white toned "Dragon Rising Above Mt Fuji," a subtle ink and colour on silk scroll that gives us a sanguine aura of a being who searches for the language of silence and solitude.
It contrasts to another scroll "Dragon in Rain Clouds," a work that embraces tempestuous times and the mystic power of the dragon nestled against the midnight blue shades of nocturnes. We are looking at the constant of Hokusai's life and career which lay on the opposite pole of sensibility: his devotion to Nichiren Buddhism, the cult of the North Star, which brought together the daily doings of the mortal world, with intimations of the infinite.
Hokusai yoked together the physical and metaphysical, he captured the bountiful sea and the ascension of heavens. He gave us an understanding of a reverence for Mt Fuji as well as a meditation on a mountain to make it a signature of immortality.
The show is a tribute to the power of iconic landscapes and wave pictures to deities and mythological beasts, from flora and fauna to beautiful women, from collaborations with other painters and writers to still lives. The objects are drawn from the British Museum's superb collection and many loans from Japan, Europe and the United States.
This epic exhibition swings Hokusai's words into its corridors of thought:
"At the age of ninety, I shall penetrate the mystery of things; At the age of a hundred, I shall have decidedly reached a degree of marvel, and when I am a hundred and ten years old, at home, either a point or a line, everything will be alive."