February 22, 2011

Hokusai and Fantasy

        The famous Japanese artist we normally call Hokusai went by about 30 different names over the course of his lifetime, but I'll stick with "Hokusai" to keep things simpler.  He was born in 1760 and died in 1849, just four years before Admiral Perry opened up Japan to the west.  When artists in Europe and the US saw Japanese art, and Hokusai's work in particular, it was quite influential.  He's famous for his series of color wood-block prints "Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji," of which the most famous of all is The Great Wave off Kanagawa.  However, coming as no surprise in someone with a prolific 75-year career, his works span all variety of subject matter.  I was tickled to discover that he illustrated a variety of Japanese stories involving fantasy creatures.  Therefore, coming as no surprise in a blog about block prints and fantasy, I feature here some of Hokusai's wood block prints of a fantastical nature.
        I had never before seen the variant (above) of his Great Wave and I love how the spray at the crest is turning into birds.  This piece is delicate and subtle.  By contrast the mermaid (to the left) appears a bit clumsy and silly.  I'm rather more curious about the hairy giant newt-thing accompanying her.
        No fantasy collection would be complete without a dragon, so here is one with Mount Fuji.  It comes from a volume of "One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji."  (I don't know how much overlap there was between these and the original "Thirty-Six Views.")
        For those who prefer their fantasy down-and-dirty, you might enjoy this battle with a monster rat…
        And here are a couple of oni, Japanese demons.
        Finally, don't forget the baku.  I love this guy!

        Hokusai's color wood block prints of landscapes are justifiably his best-known and best-loved work, but isn't it fun to see a different side to an artist you thought you knew?

[Pictures: The Big Wave, wood block print by Hokusai,
   from "One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji," Vol. 2, 1834;
Mermaid, wood block print by Hokusai, 1808;
Dragon ascending Mount Fuji, wood block print by Hokusai, from "One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji," 1834;
Monster Rat, wood block print by Hokusai, 1808;
Two oni, detail from a wood block print by Hokusai;
Baku, wood block print by Hokusai.]

(Once again, thanks to Wikimedia Commons and the users who have made all these great images available!)


Penny Watson said...

These are fabulous, Anne! So cool...thanks for this post!

Pax said...

I don't remember seeing wave foam turn into birds; did this inspire Escher? Thanks for the link back to the explanation of baku. Thanks for digging up and writing these interesting posts. I'm learning a lot.

Martha Knox said...

Awesome and educational post. Thank you! Indeed it is fun to see a different side to an artist I thought I knew. For what it is is worth, I liked the clumsy mermaid!

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

The mermaid does have a certain charm, it's true!