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b. 1760, Japan

Katsushika Hokusai Biography

Katsushika Hokusai is one of Japan's most well-known and influential artists. Throughout his career he produced not only ukiyo-e woodblock prints and paintings, but also toy prints and board games, drawings, paper lanterns and cut-out dioramas. Katsushika Hokusai is best known for the print Under the Wave off Kanagawa ('Kanagawa oki nami ura'), also known as The Great Wave, from the series 'Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji' ('Fugaku sanjūrokkei') (c 1830–32). In this woodblock, blue and white foam froths and waves roll. Hokusai cleverly plays with perspective, tilting the viewpoint so that Japan's Mount Fuji becomes a small triangular mound in the background.

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Hokusai's The Great Wave is said to have inspired Impressionist Claude Debussy and poet Rainer Maria Rilke. After Katsushika Hokusai's death and once Japan's borders were opened in the 1850s, many of his works were acquired by artists such as Claude Monet. It was perhaps Hokusai's use of Western perspective with vanishing points that drove his work to become so embraced by these European artists. While most Japanese artists were still employing Asian perspective, where far-away objects are positioned high up in the picture plane and the ground appears tilted, Hokusai was creating an innovative delineation of space and line. He also revolutionised the woodblock medium through his choice of subject; while other Japanese artists were focusing on traditional ukiyo-e themes, later in his career Hokusai would focus on landscapes and daily Japanese life, depicting the relationship between man and environment.

Though Katsushika Hokusai is a moniker associated with acclaim and popularity, the artist changed his name over 30 times during his career. Alongside informal pseudonyms, each nickname also correlates with a different period or style. His tombstone bears his final name, Gakyō rōjin Manji, which translates to 'Old Man Mad about Painting'. The sobriquet seems fitting, given that he produced some 30,000 works throughout his lifetime. Hokusai also moved 93 times. Finding cleaning distasteful, he would stay in one residence for as long as possible, letting grime and dirt build up in his studio until it became intolerable, at which point he would change location.

Katsushika Hokusai's style and practice attracted many students; he taught approximately 50 pupils during his lifetime. The artist himself was a student of renowned ukiyo-e master painter, Katsukawa Shunshō (1726–92, Edo), who taught him how to paint kabuki actors. Hokusai married twice, both women dying prematurely. He fathered two sons and three daughters.

Jessica Douglas | Ocula | 2017

Katsushika Hokusai Recent Exhibitions

Contemporary art exhibition, Group Exhibition, At Sea Online Viewing Room at David Zwirner, New York
24 July–30 August 2020 Group Exhibition At Sea Online Viewing Room David ZwirnerOnline Only
Contemporary art exhibition, Group Show, Edo Pop: The Graphic Impact of Japanese Prints at STPI - Creative Workshop & Gallery, Singapore
12 July–13 September 2014 Group Show Edo Pop: The Graphic Impact of Japanese Prints STPI - Creative Workshop & Gallery, SingaporeSingapore

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