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Katsushika Hokusai

October 31, 1760 - May 10, 1849
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Alive during Japan’s Edo period, Katsushika Hokusai was an artist, ukiyo-e painter, and designer of woodblock prints. He was also considered a leading scholar on Chinese art. The Great Wave off Kanagawa from his series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji, created between approximately 1830 and 1832, has become one of the most famous works of art in the world. The series depicts Mount Fuji in different weather conditions, and from different vistas. While the Western world reads text and images from left to right, the Japanese scan from right to left, so if the viewer looks at The Great Wave as Hokusai created it, from right to left, one follows the wave down to the boat and then looks up, where a frightening wave towers above. It’s a completely different experience than if one in essence surfs the large wave from the left.

Hokusai used at least thirty different names during the course of his career, a different one for each style of work or school that he was associated with at the time. While this was not unusual, he used more names than any other artist of his time. He created the name Katsushika by referencing the Katsushika District in Edo, now Tokyo, where he grew up. Hokusai means North Star which he chose in honor of Nishirin Buddhism which he practiced.

While known for his many styles of art, Hokusai was also known for his showmanship. In 1817 he painted a gigantic image of the Great Daruma outside a Buddhist temple with sumi-e ink on paper that measured over 60 x 32 feet. Many people watched him create this and a song was written about the event at the time. The painting was destroyed in 1945.

Hokusai had begun to draw at age six but he felt his best work was done after he was in his seventies and imagined how it would change if he could add more years to his life. His art was created while Japan’s isolationist policies were still in effect, its borders closed to most foreigners, but he learned about and incorporated elements of other cultures, including Chinese and Western art, into his work as he strove to improve upon what he had created in the past.

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