Hokusai: 5 Things To Know About The Famous Japanese Artist
When we think of the name Hokusai, we think mainly of his prints and more particularly of his great wave of Kanagawa. However, the work of this prolific artist is not limited to this world famous drawing. Here are 5 things to know about this famous Japanese artist.
1- Hokusai was not his real name
Although we know him as Katsushika Hokusai, this was not his real name. This artist of multiple identities is shrouded in mystery as little is known about his childhood.
The famous Japanese painter, draftsman and printmaker used over 120 artist names and pseudonyms during his long career.
The 6 main pseudonyms by which he signed his works correspond to six major periods in his career:
- Katsukawa Shunrô (Splendor of Spring) from 1779 to 1794
- Sôri II (name taken after the death of one of his masters, Tawaraya Sôri) from 1795 to 1798
- Hokusai (Northern Workshop) in homage to the Buddhist deity Myoken from 1799 to 1810
- Taitô (name also linked to the cult of the stars, referring to the Little Dipper) from 1811 to 1819
- Litsu (One year old again), to mark the first year of the new astrological cycle of 60 years from 1820 to 1835
- Manji (Ten thousand years) or Gakyo Rojin Manji (meaning old man mad of painting) from 1834 to 1849
He took the name of Hokusai in 1799, in homage to the Buddhist deity Myoken, incarnation of the North Star, to which he devoted a particular cult.
2- He was a versatile artist
If Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) is today the most famous Japanese artist around the world, it is mainly because of his prints such as the famous Great Wave or the 36 views of Mount Fuji.
But his work is far from being limited to these prints or series well known in the West. The artist, who was at the same time a painter, illustrator and engraver, spent his whole life perfecting his art and renewing himself.
His long life allowed him to leave behind a collection of some 30,000 drawings whose diversity is not limited to postcards of Japan.
3- His erotic drawings shocked the West
The artist who is sometimes referred to as 'the Old Drawing Fool' (Gakyojin) left us a considerable body of work including over a thousand paintings, illustrations for over 200 books but also erotic prints called shunga.
You may not know it, but erotic scenes are one of the major themes of Japanese ukiyo-e prints, along with landscapes or portraits of women. The greatest artists of the genre have tried their hand at it, including Hokusai and Hiroshige, best known for their views of Japan.
Yet, these sometimes very crude drawings like the Dream of the Fisherman's Wife (1814) shocked Westerners.
4- He popularized the term manga in the West
Hokusai is generally considered the father of modern manga. Indeed, he left us sketchbooks entitled Hokusai Manga.
Although they are not yet comic books, these notebooks are filled with illustrations of Japanese daily life. In them, the artist sketches small scenes of all kinds (bath scenes, small jobs, acrobats and contortionists, various animals, etc.).
This pioneering work reveals the artist's talent as a draftsman but also as a caricaturist.
5- His art dialogued with Western art
Although Katsushika Hokusai never traveled outside of Japan, his prints have been an inspiration to painters around the world, including French artists Pierre Bonnard, Gauguin, Vincent Van Gogh, and Claude Monet!
In his work, Hokusai never ceased to be in dialogue with Western art. His work indeed shows a synthesis between the traditional principles of Japanese art and Western influences (with the introduction in Japan of Western painting and the notion of perspective).
Copyright : Hokusai
If you want to know more about this artist at the crossroads of tradition and modernity, ancestral Japanese culture and Western influences, note that the Museum of Asian Arts in Nice is dedicating a free exhibition to him until January 29, 2023 (see link below).