Posts Tagged ‘Hokusai’

Hokusai- First Cargo Boat Battling the Wave


You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment.

—-Henry David Thoreau


Really felt like looking at some of my favorite Japanese prints from the 19th century this morning, mainly from Hokusai and Hiroshige. There are a couple here, including the one above, that led to the iconic Great Wave from Hokusai, shown just below.

With their great rhythm, harmony, and force, I could look at these pieces continuously and never feel like I’ve looked enough.

As for the symbolism of the wave today, you can plug in whatever meaning pleases you.

I know what it means for me today. And, with a bit of hope, tomorrow.

Hokusai- The Great Wave

Hokusai- Feminine/Male Wave Kammachi Festival Float Ceiling Panels

Feminine Wave – From Float Panel Hokusai



Hiroshige- Navaro Rapids

Hiroshige- Sea Off Satta Point

HiroshigeThe Wave 1859

Hokusai- View of Honmoku off Kanagawa

19th Century Japaneses Woodblock -Artist Not Indicated


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Hokusai’s Dot

At seventy-three I learned a little about the real structure of animals, plants, birds, fishes and insects. Consequently when I am eighty I’ll have made more progress. At ninety I’ll have penetrated the mystery of things. At a hundred I shall have reached something marvelous, but when I am a hundred and ten everything I do, the smallest dot, will be alive.

Katsushika Hokusai


I really like the bit of wisdom above from the great Hokusai, both for his optimism on aging as well as the idea that as he continues to progress his work will reach a point where everything he paints– even something as simple as a dot– has a life force within it.

Attaining that life force, where the painting transcends what you have put into it, in any one piece is a rare and difficult thing for any artist to achieve. But that idea that you might one day reach a point where your work has moved from a product of thought and craft to a transcendent expression of the spirit is something that seems beyond our reach or even our aim.

But perhaps we should keep it as an aim in our mind, along with the idea that we will continue to progress as we age, even if it is stored in rarely visited corner.  If we hold on to it perhaps we will subconsciously find our way to that goal. And when we are a hundred and ten, the dots we paint will have that same life force as those created by Hokusai.

It’s something to hope for…

I’ve included a few of Hokusai’s paintings beyond his famed wave and landscapes. I love his fish pieces and the raven is wonderful. Enjoy!

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Crimson Tide

Decency wins.

It’s been about a year now and a great part of the American people is finally recognizing that the country has been led directly into a deeper and darker swamp than they had thought possible.

We once believed that this country held the moral high ground with promises of equality, justice and opportunity for all. But that high ground has sunk into an ugly filth that has all but obliterated the line between decency and indecency, between the ethical and the unethical, between what is normal and abnormal and between what is true and what is false.

It’s seems so filthy that we can no longer tell right from wrong.

Yesterday’s election in Alabama was a small step out of that mire.

There is fresh air and a renewed energy. Hope. But we are still waist deep in it and there is a feeling that we are still in peril of being forever immersed in the muck unless we keep trudging out of this mess– together.

This is perhaps the most important moment for the future of our country and we cannot afford to relax and assume that others will watch out for our common good. Involve yourself, involve others and do the right things.

Because if we do that, decency will continue to win.

That being said, I had the chorus from Deacon Blues from Steely Dan running through my head as I walked to the studio in the dark this morning: They got a name for the winners in the world/I want a name when I lose/They call Alabama the Crimson Tide/Call me Deacon Blues

It has nothing to do with the election but I feel a little better about things because of those folks in Alabama. Thanks, Crimson Tiders. Here’s the song:

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Winslow Homer- Watching the Breakers

Winslow Homer- Watching the Breakers

When you say homer in Cooperstown, you would normally think of the Baseball Hall of Fame located there.  But until August 24th, the Fenimore Art Museum has an exhibit of paintings from American master Winslow Homer from the Arkell Museum collection.

We took a quick jaunt out to Cooperstown yesterday to see this exhibit and were pleased with the scope of the show which showed fine examples from all the phases of his career.  It had some of his illustration paintings from the Civil War, seascapes in oil and watercolor and his  light filled tropical watercolors.  It really gave you an idea of how talented he was across mediums and how well he controlled the  light in his work.

My personal favorite was  On the Beach, featured below.  It was panned critically in its time, generally for all the things that make it feel vibrant in a contemporary sense– primarily its almost abstract composition of bands of color.

Japanese Prints at the Fenimore

Japanese Prints at the Fenimore

However, for as much as we liked the Homer show, it was group of Japanese woodblock prints that really caught our eyes.  It hung in the same space that held my 2012 show and it transformed the space completely.  Inspired by the local but widely renowned Glimmerglass Opera‘s production of Madame Butterfly, this group of prints,  some from Hiroshige and Hokusai, shows Japan as it made the transition into modernity at in the latter half of the 19th century.   It’s enlightening and elegant at once.

There is also a fine group of historically based paintings of New York state from painter L.F, Tantillo.  They are extraordinarily detailed and luminous in the way they are painted.  A really unexpected delight as you head down to see the Thaw Collection, the museum’s famous collection of American Indian art masterpieces.

So, if you are in central NY any time soon, I really urge you to take a side trip to Cooperstown.  There’s baseball and great art in one lovely lakeside village.  What more could you ask?

Winslow Homer- On the bEach

Winslow Homer- On the bEach

L.F. Tantillo- Manhattan Sunset

L.F. Tantillo- Manhattan Sunset

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Hokusai Mackerel and Sea Shells 1840

I don’t have much to say today and am running late plus the Russia-Finland hockey matchup in the Olympics is beginning as I speak.  So I am greatly distracted today.  But t came across this image from the Japanese master Hokusai that I wanted to share.  I had a post several years back that featured the famed waves  for which Hokusai is best known.  They are such strong images of the power and rhythm of nature that it is easy to see why they are his signature works.  But when I saw this quiet still-life of a fish with a few shells from 1840 I truly understood how revelatory this work must have been to the western artists,  such as Whistler and Van Gogh among many others,who discovered it a generation later.

It has a wonderful delicacy in its color and it’s also  simple and elegant, maintaining an extraordinary modernity through the past 170 or so years.  It always seems  like it is in the now which is that intangible that most artists , myself included, seek.  It is unlike anything you would have found in the west in 1840 yet seems totally at home now.  Just a wonderful image to ponder.

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Watching the coverage of the disaster taking place in Japan has brought to mind the many Japanese influences on my work.  I have always been drawn to the work of the Japanese print masters such as Hokusai, who I have written about before, and Hiroshige.  I was influeneced by their work before I was even aware of it, mostly through their influence on the European artists in the late 19th century.  Artists like Whistler and Van Gogh were enthralled by the beauty of their woodblocks, Van Gogh even going so far as simply copying them for some of his earlier paintings.

When I began to look more closely at the work of Hiroshige, I too was captivated.  There is great unity and totality in the work, a harmony of color and line rhythm that fills the picture frame.   The colors are softly graded yet there is deep saturation  that is like a feast for the eyes.  The landscapes seem to grow organically with lovely curves and lines that evoke that sense of rightness I have often struggled to describe here.  They have a great polarity as well.  They are bold yet subtle.  They are quiet yet not timid.  they are simple yet complex. They are both earthly and ethereal. 

In short, they are just wonderful.

Take a look at this beautiful work and how it reflects its homeland.  If you can, take a few minutes and donate what you can to relief organizations whose help a great part of this nation is desperately desiring in this time of disaster. 

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I often get comments from people asking about the Eastern, particularly Japanese, influence in my work.  While it has never been intentional, I have always been drawn to the prints of the Japanese masters Hiroshige and Hokusai and their influence inevitably finds its way into my own work.

I find the rhythm and structure of Hokusai’s wave prints very appealing.  There is a great combination of quietude and motion in the prints, brought to great effect with the use of gorgeous colors and impeccable design.

Along with this dichotomy of quiet and movement, there is a omnipresent sense of the immense force of nature over man.  Hokusai often has Mt. Fuji in the distance behind the curls of his powerful waves, reinforcing the power and sanctity of nature.  The finger-like  quality of the edges of the breaking waves seem like the hand of mother nature reaching out to slap at the reaching hands of her children, the boatmen.  Again, reinforcing the dominance of nature over man.

There is a lot more I could say about Hokusai’s work but so much of my appreciation for it is almost indefinable.  The work allows me to enter and translate it easily and thrill in the beauty of the lines and hues of the picture plane without determining why I am drawn to it.  This unquantifiable ease of translation may be the element of Hokusai’s work that I desire to see in my own work.

Great stuff…

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Into StillnessAt my first solo show, in 2000, at the Principle Gallery in Alexandria, VA, I was approached by many people all asking the same question: “Can you tell us about your Japanese influences?”  If it had been one or two people I wouldn’t have thought anything of the question but this was like 30 or 40 people all asking the same question.

I explained that there wasn’t any overt connection or influence from any particular Japanese artist.  This was true.  I had seen prints, obviously, but hadn’t really looked deeply into them.  I didn’t even know who Hokusai or Hiroshige were.  Didn’t know much at all, to be honest.

I was more influenced by the haiku poetry form, such as those from Basho.  I loved its simplicity and spareness of form, the way those three short lines of verse could create a real sense of atmosphere.  You could feel the sense of quiet that I sought in my work.  I even had a series of paintings early in painting career titled after the haiku.

I think that the works of Japanese masters such as Hokusai and Hiroshige carry this same feeling,the same that is instilled in many haikus.  There is a placidness, a calmness that permeates the work.  I was honored that people saw a similar quality in my work even though the similarity was coincidental.

Pieces such as the one shown here, Into Stillness, are among my favorites to paint because of the calm attitude that is required to make the piece come alive.  I can only paint them successfully when I am able to shake off all cares and troubles and find a point of stillness.  They really don’t come as easily as I might wish.

But I can hope…

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