Monday, November 5, 2007


The Great Wave off Kanagawa - Hokusai

I have always thought that the Great Wave painting was a very modern looking artwork. The original was done by colour woodcut print ca. 1830, then copied and reprinted in 1930. The above work is the 1930 print. The wave is drawn in a dramatic and stylised way, easily being the main focus of the picture. The people on the boats seem small and weak in comparison. In the distance can be seen Mount Fuji, standing tall and strong - strong and eternal compared to the temporal life of the wave. Even the small people on their boats seem like they will weather the wave and pass through to the other side.
I am not sure why this painting seems so modern to me, but it could be the stylised way it is executed, the flat outlines of the mountain, wave and curious cloud formation. It could also be the juxtaposition of ideas represented by these different elements. The cloud has form but is temporal and gas like. The wave is powerful with a definite shape, yet is still temporal and passing. The mountain has form and strength, but silent and wise. But, the mountain has a hidden anger as the volcano, that could erupt, or has erupted in a different time. The men on boats of invention, designed to conquer the forces of nature, are strong for a season then blow away as dried grass, so are really temporal.

Below is a more stylised wave painting that I did after Hokusai's masterpiece. My wave has a funny attitude: part silly, part angry. The personified organic objects in the wave are being swept along, which smooths and transforms them on their journey. The flat sand planes show the marks of other journeys. The mountains are standing back untouched as wise old viewers of these events. The wave is singular in my artwork, a moving, ever breaking, cobra like being that travels back and forth, sucking up and carrying along everything in it's path. Yet it cannot touch the mountains, for it's power has been limited.

As I was painting, 'The Big Wave', my mind was turning over these ideas and endowing these simple images with all those meanings and more. I suppose art in someway is a non-literal, consolidated expression of feeling and thought, communicated through a tangible medium.

The Big Wave - 1991 - Acrylic and pencil on paper - 73x54cm


  1. Once again--great minds think alike, I love Hokusai and the woodblocks of his peers. The great wave is timeless. I was tempted to reproduce it on one of the boys walls some years back and like many ideas I have, never got round to it. The wall in question is 5 metres wide by 6 metres long...can you imagaine it?
    By the way, I like your big wave--especially the flotsam and jetsom caught up in it.
    How's that pot of cofee going? Surely it's brewed by now.

  2. Loretta, I will catch up to you in a few weeks - by the way it's a nice automatic De'longhi coffee machine that I received from Bosch power tools for being a good buyer for the store. They gave me a thousand dollar coffee machine for buying two thousand dollars worth of power tools. Nice bonus hey?


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