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Introducing Hokusai

Hokusai Katsushika: The Great Wave off Kanagawa c. 1831.

To introduce our new range of gorgeous Hokusai furoshiki, we would like to talk about this tremendous Japanese artist.

Hokusai Katsushika is the Edo-era artist who created the iconic views of Japan’s revered Mount Fuji, as part of his series of woodblock prints entitled Thirty Six Views of Mount Fuji.

Our new furoshiki range includes three of Hokusai’s beloved prints, and they create beautiful home decoration such as wall hangings and tableware, as well as beautiful furoshiki bags and giftwrapping:

Hokusai created the Thirty Six Views of Mount Fuji owing to his fascination with the iconic mountain. The two prints which feature on our large 104cm furoshiki – The Great Wave off Kanagawa, and South Wind, Clear Sky, are the most clearly recognisable of the series, and it was these works that secured Hokusai’s reputation as an internationally acclaimed artist.

Hokusai and a Life in Art:

It is understood that Hokusai’s father was a mirror-maker to the shogun in Nakajima Ise. This was a position of prestige, which afforded the young Hokusai an education at a young age in design. Hokusai displayed an artistic talent when he was just six years old.

At the age of 14 he became apprenticed to a wood-carver, and at 18 he was accepted into the studio of the ukiyo-e artist Katsukawa Shunshou. Shunshou specialised in ukiyo-e, and it was here that Hokusai mastered the art of woodblock prints that were to make his name over a long 70-year career.

It was upon the death of Hokusai’s master, that he began to explore different, ground-breaking subjects for his woodblock designs, away from the traditional scenes of courtesans and Kabuki actors. He was influenced in part by French and Dutch copper engravings. He turned his art towards the landscapes and scenes of everyday Japanese life which were to make him famous.

Hokusai's Mount Fuji seen through Cherry Blossoms c.1834

The term ukiyo-e means ‘pictures of the floating world’, and has come to regard woodblock prints produced in Japan between the 16th and 19th century. Ukiyo is a Buddhist term that reflects on the transience of life and nature. This philosophy flows through the 11th century Japanese classic The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu. It has come to be symbolised by the annual hanami, in which the fleeting beauty of the cherry blossom is celebrated.

The Woodblock Print Process:

Japanese woodblock prints (ukiyo-e) are made from cherry hard-wood blocks. Cherry wood has a straight grain which is well-suited to intricate carving, and it can also withstand repeated printing (a single woodblock carving can create hundreds of prints).

Each print required the creative skill of four experts: the image designer, the carver, the printer, and the publisher. The designer was dependent on the skills of the carver and printer in order to complete their design in the way that they had envisaged.

Hokusai would have designed the shita-e: the sketched line drawing which is the beginning of the ukiyo-e process.

The hiroshi (carver) would have then pasted the drawing to the sakura woodblock and carved the spare wood away, leaving only the raised lines that were to be printed. Incredibly, each colour of the print required a separately carved woodblock (iro-ita) - some prints required up to twenty colours!

The printer (surishi) used a brush to apply the ink colour to the woodblock. Dampened kouzo paper (a textured washi paper made from the fibres of mulberry bark) was then carefully placed on top of the inked woodblock.

A padded tool called a baren was then rubbed over the paper in order to transfer the inked print onto it.

Hokusai's Influence:

Water Lilies and Japanese Bridge by Claude Monet, 1899 (Princeton University Art Museum).

Hokusai was one of many Japanese artists whose artwork had a tremendous influence on Western painters such as Vincent Van Gogh, Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, and Claude Monet, and we will be looking at this influence in another blog soon.

In the meantime, why not take a look at the anime Miss Hokusai – it’s an interesting fictionalised account of the daughter of the great master. The animated artwork is beautiful, and the scenes of old Edo are fascinating - and you'll see a lot of furoshiki!

Or take a look at our About Kyoto Washi Paper page, to discover more about the fascinating paper-making process!



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