Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Closely Looking at Hokusai's "Great Wave" (aka "Under the Wave off Kanagawa") + FOOD: EGGPLANT & TOMATO CASSEROLE

The world-renowned landscape print "Under the Wave off Kanagawa" — also known as the "Great Wave"— by the Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849), is currently on view at the Met Museum in NYC.
"Great Wave' image courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art
The "Great Wave" belongs to a series of
Hokusai prints titled: "
Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji".
Mt. Fuji represents the highest point in Japan (12,389 ft) and
as an active volcano, it last erupted in 1707-08. 
The mountain is located 60 miles south-west of Tokyo,
on Honsu Island. On a clear day it can be easily seen
from Tokyo and many parts of southern Japan.
(c. 1829-32) at the Met Museum.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, in New York City, is celebrating the 100th anniversary of their Department of Asian Art with a year long program of 19 exhibitions and installations.

Outside the Met, a banner hangs
touting the 100th anniversary of
their Asian Art Department.
Above, is one of four early and high quality prints
of the "Great Wave" in the collection 

of the Met. Museum in NYC.

To commemorate the centennial of the Met's Department of Asian Art the department has organized an exhibition of its formidable holdings, which includes the world-renowned "Great Wave" print by Hokusai, first published by the artist in 1831.

This famous woodblock print, by the Japanese master artist Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849), is titled "Under the Wave off Kanagawa", but the artwork has come to be known as simply the "Great Wave".

Now, let's take a very close look at this famous icon of the art world: Hokusai's "GREAT WAVE".

"Great Wave" (c. 1829-32), by the Japanese master Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849),
out of his series "Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji".

Hokusai was born in 1760, in Katsushika, a district east of Edo (Edo is now Tokyo, Japan). He was the son of a mirror maker to the shōgun and his mother was most likely a concubine. When he was in his late 60s, he started working on "Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji", which proved so popular that he later added ten additional color prints. He died at the age of 89, in 1849. His work is considered to be a part of the "Edo Period" of Japanese art. 

Hokusai self-portrait.

Hokusai's career spanned more than seven decades. Not only did he achieve fame for his dynamic wood block prints and illustrated books

Katusushika Hokusai, "Fuji at sea", 1835
from vol. 2 of 3-vol.
illustrated book
"One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji"
1834 - 1842

(This B/W book includes an expanded series
of Hokusai's Mount Fuji images.)
...but was also recognized as a skilled painter, known for his ingenuity in technique, perspective and compositions. 

 A Hokusai Painting: ink and color on silk
"Boy viewing Mount Fuji" 1839
Some years before his death he is reported to have stated:
At the age of five years I had the habit of sketching things. At the age of fifty I had produced a large number of pictures, but for all that, none of them had any merit until the age of seventy. At seventy-three finally I learned something about the true nature of things, birds, animals, insects, fish, the grasses and the trees. So at the age of eighty years I will have made some progress, at ninety I will have penetrated the deepest significance of things, at a hundred I will make real wonders and at a hundred and ten, every point, every line, will have a life of its own.

A sample of a Japanese wood block being carved.
Hokusai's "Great Wave" is a woodblock print created from his original ink and brush drawing, his color selections and his design. Hokusai was the artist, but a master wood carving craftsman actually cut the wood blocks, and a printing craftsman inked the blocks and made the final prints all under the artist's supervision. The "Great Wave" has become the most well-known work of Japanese art in the world today.

In the seriesMt. Fuji is the unifying element in every one of the wood block prints. In the "Great Wave", as dynamic and imposing as the huge breaking wave is, in many ways the diminutive profile of Mt. Fuji arguably remains the focus of the composition. The large cresting wave reveals the mountain within the hollow of its draft and then points down toward Mt. Fuji, while the darkened horizon helps the mountain to stand out, as it creates a strong contrast with the snow capped peak.

In wood block printing, each color is created by a separate block. The complicated and sophisticated use of various hues of blue in the "Great Wave"  is a distinctive feature of several prints from the "Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji"
 Some of the prints with dominant blue coloring 
from Hokusai's series: "Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji".
At the time the "Great Wave" print was produced, there was a large demand in Japan for "Berlin blue", popularly known as "Prussian blue", which was imported from Europe. 

Three separate blue variations of ink were used on the "Great Wave",
each requiring its own woodblock to be cut, inked, registered and printed.
Along with the light "dayflower blue", and medium "royal blue", scientific analysis has revealed that both "Prussian blue" and traditional "indigo blue" were used in the "Great Wave" to create subtle gradations in the coloring of the darkest blue tones.

Left: Blues on the color wheel, Center: "Prussian Blue" powdered pigment,
Right: "Indigo Blue" a sample showing the color.

For the "Great Wave", in addition to the three blue blocks, the light yellow color in the sky, which defines the clouds, plus the various shades of reddish yellow in the three boats, were most likely all inked on one woodblock. The dark grey sky, fading to light grey extends up under the yellow sky and was another printing block. Finally, the solid brush-like black outlines defining the artwork and giving an edge to most of the colors was the last block to be printed. If our guess is correct, this made a total of 6 wood blocks which had to be carved, inked, registered and transferred to the paper using a brayer - all by the hands of the craftsmen. Major mis-registrations or smears anywhere along this process, meant the print had to be discarded, and at that time in history, paper was a true luxury item. 

Interestingly, every individual wood block print from this period was a unique work of art, as opposed to just being a part of an edition. Because of the way each block was hand-inked, there are always unique variations in the individual prints.

Mt. Fuji is an active volcano and for that reason the mountain has a beautifully symmetrical cone shape. The volcano has not erupted since these artworks were produced, so the mountain remains much as Hokusai would have seen it.

Detail of the print, isolating Mr. Fuji. Notice how similar the snow capped blue mountain is to the foam covered blue sea waves. Also notice the white dots in the blended dark grey sky, allows the water droplets/spray of sea to continue in space, away from the wave.
The type of wave depicted by Hokusai is referred to as "okinami", or great off-shore wave. These are common to the Pacific Ocean off the Kanagawa prefecture (where the port city of Yokohma is located, today). Both raging ocean storms and grand volcanoes are two of the most powerful natural phenomenas on Earth. Here Hokusai dramatically allows the two to interact and compete for our attention. 

Notice how the shape of the smaller cresting wave duplicates the cone shape of Mt. Fuji, snow cap and all. The powerful sea seems to be mocking the volcano. Is this artwork depicting an Asian version of "Clash of the Titans" - Sea God vs Volcanic God?

Detail: the smaller wave repeats Mt. Fuji's shape and 
Mt. Fuji can easily be mistaken for one of the waves.
The crest of the great wave is very menacing, as it visually bears down on Mt. Fuji, claws revealed. It truly seems to be attacking its land-locked opponent.

In the "Great Wave", Hokusai has performed an almost impossible task, by graphically depicting the powerful energy created when gale force winds whip up an "angry ocean". 

The energy of the draw is felt equal to that of the cresting wave above, 
as a huge amount of water is sucked up to create the swell. 
Skilled observation of the how the ocean performs, went into creating this drama.

Hokusai has created sea foam that is animated and
anthropomorphous. The viewer begins to see creatures
in the foam with legs and beaks, horns and claws.
This may well be the most interesting depiction of 
sea foam, ever, in the history of art.

Although the Sea God may be battling the Volcanic God of Mt. Fuji, it is the poor mortals who are in jeopardy here. As the rush of water drops the boats into the valley created, the men brace for a powerful crash from the wave hovering above them. Notice how the barge crew has hunkered down, holding on tight to the wooden grid of each boat, hoping to survive.

Foundering among the great waves, three barges, probably carrying fish 
from nearby islands, are caught in the turbulence.

In the upper left corner of the "Great Wave" print is the artist's signature and his title.

Title box.

The title of the series and this particular print is contained inside a rectangular box, where it is written:
Which translates to "Thirty six views of Mount Fuji / offshore from Kanagawa / Beneath the wave"

for this print.

The brush-like inscription to the left of the title box, is the artist's signature: 


Which translates to: "From the brush of Hokusai, who changed his name to Iitsu".

(Hokusai, given his humble beginning, didn't have a last name and his first pen-name, Katsushika, only referred to the region where he was born. Over his career, he used more than 30 different names, never beginning a new cycle of works without changing it, letting his students use the previous name. 

In his work "Thirty Six views from Mount Fuji" he used four distinct signatures, changing his signature according to the phase of the work: 
Hokusai aratame Iitsu hitsu
zen Hokusai Iitsu hitsu
Hokusai Iitsu hitsu
zen saki no Hokusai Iitsu hitsu.

The impact this print has had on the world.

Claude Monet's "Great Wave" print
still hangs on the wall of
his home / art studio in Giverny.
The "Great Wave" makes an impression on most every viewer. During the impressionistic period of art, the great painter Claude Monet kept an early editon print of the "Great Wave" prominently displayed at his home/studio in Giverny, France. 

"Portrait of Pere Tanguy", 1887,
 surrounded by Japanese prints
painting by Vincent Van Gogh
The Post-Impressionist artist, Vincent Van Gogh, was smitten by the quality of the outlines and compositions of all Japanese woodblock prints, especially those by Hokusai. 

The French impressionistic composer, Claude Debussy, was inspired to repaint the "Great Wave" using only music, in the orchestration of his composition: "LA MER"   

Hokusai's "Great Wave"
is said to have inspired 
the impressionistic French 
composer Claude Debussy, to create
his musical composition "LE MER".
One last look at "Under the Wave off Kanagawa", aka the "Great Wave",
created by the Japanese master artist Hokusai, 184 years ago.
A simple composition made up of the Pacific Ocean, three boats and crews, one landmark and the sky.
Seen this way, there are only four elements, but this artwork reveals the beauty and power of nature
and one man's ability to make a contribution to civilization and the history of art.

Notes about this exhibition at the Met. Museum.

Hokusai's "Great Wave" is on display through September 27, 2015, as part of "Discovering Japanese Art: American Collectors and the Met." The museum will begin by showing a fine impression of the "Great Wave" but to avoid light damage from leaving the color print exposed for too long, the curators will rotate in other impressions of the print through-out the exhibition. The Metropolitan Museum has four different impressions of this print -- all of them early, fine impressions, in good condition.
Online Q: Is the fading problem connected to the blue color?
Online A: In fact, Prussian Blue and Indigo Blue, both used by Hokusai to create the dynamic coloring, are not overly sensitive to light, but the pale Dayflower Blue will fade if exposed to light over a prolonged period. 

Detailed specifications of the "Great Wave":
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)
Artist: Katsushika Hokusai (Japanese, Tokyo (Edo) 1760–1849 Tokyo (Edo))
Period: Edo period (1615–1868)
Date: ca. 1830–32
Culture: Japan
Medium: Polychrome woodblock print; ink and color on paper
Dimensions: 10 1/8 x 14 15/16 in. (25.7 x 37.9 cm)
Classification: Prints
Credit Line: H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929
Accession Number: JP1847
Department: Asian Art, Japan

(Source: Portions of the text and photographic images for this article were supplied by The Metropolitan Museum of Art's Press Department. The other images used are in the public domain. Additional factual information came from Wikipeidia. Any analysis or opinions are original creations by the staff at ARTSnFOOD.blogspot.com. Original Art, Text & Photographs are © Copyright 2015, all rights reserved.)


2 med. eggplants
    (peeled & cut into 1/4" rounds)
2 large fresh tomatoes, sliced in rounds
2 hard boiled eggs
3/4 bottle favorite tomato sauce
1 cup of whole mushrooms
4 garlic cloves
3 oz pepper jack cheese
    (chopped into pieces)
3 oz of Parmesan cheese curls 
1 jar of pimentos
Splash of sherry
Slash of rice vinegar
Ground sea salt
Fresh ground pepper
1 tsp chipotle chili seasoning
olive oil

- Place the oven rack in the center of the oven.
   (making room for two trays of eggplant)
- Foil line, then spray cooking oil on baking sheets
- Place the eggplant rounds on the the oiled baking sheets
- Spray eggplant with oil on both sides
- Sprinkle both sides with salt & pepper
- BROIL 2 - 3 minutes on each side,
   or until eggplants are lightly browned (& have softened)
- Remove eggplant from oven and set aside
- SET OVEN to 450º f.

- Heat a little oil & butter in a large high walled skillet
- Add mushrooms and sauté
- Half-way through cooking mushrooms add splash of sherry and splash of rice wine vinegar, garlic + a few grinds of salt and pepper
- When liquid has evaporated, add tomato sauce, chipotle seasoning, stir, cover and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes or until thickened, to sweeten the tomato sauce and meld the flavors. Stir intermittently while cooking.
- Remove skillet from the heat

- Lightly coat a 9"  high walled square casserole dish with cooking spray
- Spread 1/3 of the tomato & mushroom sauce over the bottom of the casserole dish
- Top with half the eggplant rounds, overlapping if needed
- Place the tomato slices over the eggplants
- Sprinkle the chopped egg over the tomato slices
- Lightly salt & pepper the eggs and tomatoes
- Repeat the sauce and eggplant layers
- Sprinkle the eggplant with the pimentos
- Spoon the remaining sauce over the top of the last layer
- Sprinkle the two cheeses on top of the sauce to cover

- Cook, uncovered, in the oven for 20 minutes
- Remove and let cool just a little
- Cut into 9 square servings & spoon onto plates 

Serves 9
Works as an entree or side dish.
(original recipe, Atkinson Family Cookbook)

Until Later,
ARTSnFOOD, is an online publication dedicated to "The Pursuit of Happiness through the Arts and Food." ™ All rights reserved. Concept, Original Art, Text & Photographs are © Copyright 2015 Jack A. Atkinson under all International intellectual property and copyright laws. Any gallery, event, museum, fair or festival photographs were taken with permission. Images © individual artists, fabricators, respective owners or assignees.

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