'AMOROUS' 好色 - ART PHOTO BOOK UPDATE: INFLUENCES OF HOKUSAI

The art photo book 'Amorous' 『好色』 includes a provocative interpretation of the Japanese erotic art Shunga (春画). A portrayal of the tradtional woodblock prints prevalent in the Edo period (1600 - 1868).

Described as pictures of the floating world, Ukiyo-e (浮世絵) represented an aesthetic of transience and impermanence. Art pieces contained portraits of beautiful women, kabuki actors, courtesans and geisha of hedonistic times. Early works included drawings, paintings, and illustrated books whose content involved Mukashibanashi (昔話) tales of long ago, Minwa (民話) folktales and Kaidan (怪談) horror or ghost stories. Buddhist philosophy explained that all is an illusion, and during the Edo period it was synonymous with the pursuit of ephemeral pleasure.

Katsushika Hokusai (葛飾北斎) was born in 1760, and became one of the most prolific artists in Japanese woodblock print. 'Under the Wave off Kanagawa' (神奈川沖浪裏) Kanagawa oki nami ura is part of a series of prints titled 'Thirty-six views of Mount Fuji' (冨嶽三十六景) which Hokusai produced between 1829 and 1833. Hokusai's 'Thirty-six views' shows influences from the West; 'The Nihonbashi Bridge' in the Edo period shows a perspective view of Japanese landscape. Perspective views were used in Western art work but rarely created with multiple vanishing points as seen in Hokusai's work. In 'Under the Wave Off Kanagawa', Hokusai uses a foreign pigment Prussian Blue ink which was imported in the 1820s. Other foreign organic and inorganic pigments such as Safflower, Vermillion and Berlin Blue were imported by Chinese and Dutch traders as early as 1782.

Katsushika Hokusai

 Katsushika Hokusai

江戸日本橋 | plate 21. Nihonbashi [Bridge], Edo | Katsushika Hokusai
冨嶽三十六景 | Fugaku Sanjūrokkei | Thirty-six Views of Mt Fuji
Woodblock print, ink and colour on paper | 1830-33
Tokyo, Japan | Edo Period (1600-1868)

At the International Exposition in Paris in 1867, Hokusai's work was on display at the Japanese pavilion. This included his famous Manga (漫画) works, which was the first introduction of Japanese culture to mass audiences in the West.

Katsushika Hokusai

 Katsushika Hokusai

五百らかん寺さゞゐどう | plate 23. Sazai Hall of the Five Hundred Rakan Temple | Katsushika Hokusai
冨嶽三十六景 | Fugaku Sanjūrokkei | Thirty-six Views of Mt Fuji
Woodblock print, ink and colour on paper | 1830-33
Tokyo, Japan | Edo Period (1615-1868)

Exaggerated foreshortening and flattening of space, the influences of the natural world as the focus which included animals, birds and landscapes; Hokusai was quickly recognised for his books of brush drawings, The Manga. Impressionists appreciated the visual elegance and illustrative impact of the landscape prints and sketches of movement and form of fish, sumo wrestlers, geisha and every day city dwellers. These particularly influenced Degas's bathers and his dancers.

Bright colours, images depicted as a narrative with areas of flat un-shaded colour and asymmetry of design were characteristics of Ukiyo-e imagination. Towards the end of the Edo period Ukiyo-e printing techniques were considered mainstream used for commercial marketing and advertising; elsewhere in Europe woodblock prints were influencing European impressionist and post-impressionist artists; such as Claude Monet, Edgar Degas and Vincent Van Gogh.

Claude Monet and Katsushika Hokusai

 Claude Monet

Jardin à Sainte-Adresse | Claude Monet
Oil on Canvas | 1867
France, Paris | Impressionism (1867-1886)

In his introduction to the edition of 'One Hundred Views of Mt. Fuji' (1834) Hokusai wrote:

From around the age of six, I had the habit of sketching from life. I became an artist, and from fifty on began producing works that won some reputation, but nothing I did before the age of seventy was worthy of attention. At seventy-three, I began to grasp the structures of birds and beasts, insects and fish, and of the way plants grow. If I go on trying, I will surely understand them still better by the time I am eighty-six, so that by ninety I will have penetrated to their essential nature. At one hundred, I may well have a positively divine understanding of them, while at one hundred and thirty, forty, or more I will have reached the stage where every dot and every stroke I paint will be alive. May Heaven, that grants long life, give me the chance to prove that this is no lie.

Hokusai also produced many erotic prints known as Shunga (春画) spring picture; shun (春) translating to spring has often been described as a euphemism for sex but also has a more specific meaning when you research the kanji. The character shun/haru (春) means spring but can also mean wanton, as in to behave in a sexually immodest or promiscuous way. These were discreetly circulated to both men and women and demanded a much higher price than regular Ukiyo-e.

Katsushika Hokusai

 Katsushika Hokusai

plate 12. | Katsushika Hokusai
福寿草 | Fukujusō | Adonis Flower
Woodblock print; ink and colour on paper | 1822-1823
Tokyo, Japan | Edo Period (1600-1868)

This challenges Western views and perceptions of Japanese traditional art, whilst includes Japanese aesthetic and cultural choices popular with society at the time. Traditional Japanese art during the Edo period includes Ukiyo-e (浮世絵), Shunga (春画), Yūrei (幽霊), Manga (漫画) and Muzan-e (無惨絵); the initial early influences of Kinbaku (緊縛) which are perceived to be individual concepts, however they are all inter-connected.

References

Fiske, B & Morenus L 2005, Ultraviolet and Infrared Examination of Japanese Woodblock Prints: Identifying Reds and Blues, American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works, USA

Smith, H 2005, Hokusai and the Blue Revolution in Edo Prints, Columbia University, In John T. Carpenter, ed., Hokusai and His Age: Ukiyo-e Painting, Printmaking, and Book Illustration in Late Edo Japan Amsterdam: Hotei Publishing, pp. 234-69.

Traganou, J 2003, The Tokaido Road: Travelling and Representation in Edo and Meiji Japan, Taylor & Francis Ltd, UK

All images are in the public domain.

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