You must have seen the above picture – it tends to be available from a rack of posters in shops all across the UK at least. Well – today I saw the original. Josie and used our day off to catch up on some sleep before heading to explore the small town of “Obuse”, just 8 minutes north of here by train..
“Obuse is a gorgeous rural village/town with a heavy focus on art and beauty. Coming out of the station we were hit by the rare smell of flowers. It`s main claim to fame is that the famous artist Katsushika Hokusai spent the last portion of his life there, and left behind alot of original art work.(he did that famous “scared dudes in boat with big waves and mt.fuji in the background” poster you can get in Athena”.) We ambled into his museum to gaze in amazement at his work and watch a couple of slide shows (one of which had english subtitles) about the guy and his artwork.
Hokusai “lived to draw”, and this kept him going to a ripe old age even though he never had much cash (used to borrow money from people for even basic art supplies). His main patron, who was a significantly younger man called Kozuka, kept him going in Obuse and even occasionally collaborated with him on screen paintings. It is actually one of Kozuka`s descendants who got the collection together and the museum a good 127 years after Hokusai himself had passed on.
His art amazes me – everything is movement – and despite the simple lines and lack of excessive detail, he manages to capture life wonderfully well. As Josie pointed out, your mind picks up on the few visual clues and fills in the rest of the scene. Since my own artwork is quite simple lines, sketchy, lack of real background (especially the quick sketches) and certainly not with the rich detail and realism of older western painters, I find Hokusai`s work personally inspiring and encouraging. It reminds me I want to practice on drawing movement and feeling again…
The other interesting things is that this “woodblock” art, particularly Hokusai who experimented and published small books of prints using the recently invented press, is perhaps the fore-runner of modern manga. The line art, screen tones, wall scrolls, basic backgrounds and so on on is very reminiscent — at least, it is easy to see how one evolved into the other, perhaps with a heavy dose and influence of Disney-cartoon.”
Something great about a life with no TV, very little internet access, and only one or two books to read, is that it gives you time for other things. I have been using a fair bit of this time lately to draw again, draw in a way I`ve not done in years perhaps. You will have to wait till I am back with a scanner, but the pictures that are emerging, not many for sure, are filled with a sense of my own creativity. Often people say to me “I can`t draw. I can think of the picture clearly in my head, but I can`t get it down on paper.” Let me tell you a secret – I can`t do that either. Its not how I draw. Usually, I have no solid image in my mind, but more a concept, impression, mood. Often I find some external reference material, a photo, a manga picture that “resonates” a little with the character or feel that I want, and I build on it from there. Lately, my pictures have become a bit different, freer, as I stop trying to achieve “X” standard but rather just draw and see what comes out. It is almost like letting my mind become unfocused somehow. And then I look at the finished piece, and almost fall into it, like looking at some part of myself I`ve made manifest, however crudely, on blank paper. my creativity also goes in a rhythmn – sometimes flowing othertimes dry, rubbish, forced. I have found something out here in Japan – or perhaps built on something I rediscovered before I left, which is drawing just for the sheer fun and expression of it. Get your ego and sense of pride out the way. I love the art of people I know, no matter how crude or basic or flawed or perfect – simply because it is THEIR art. Why not apply the same to myself?
Hokusai himself had a pretty unusual and often difficult life – his peers must have thought him really odd with all his travelling. But his art literally kept him alive, an old man of 90 still at his workshop, trying to perfect his expression.
“From the age of five I have had a mania for sketching the forms of things. From about the age of fifty I produced a number of designs, yet of all I drew prior to the age of seventy there is truly nothing of great note. At the age of seventy-two I finally apprehended something of the true quality of birds, animals, insects, fish and of the vital nature of grasses and trees. Therefore, at eighty I shall have made some progress, at ninety I shall have penetrated even further the deeper meaning of things, at one hundred I shall have become truly marvelous, and at one hundred and ten, each dot, each line shall surely possess a life of its own. I only beg that gentlemen of sufficiently long life take care to note the truth of my words.”
read more about him here
You know, I never understood art galleries. In the same way I didnt understand olives and pickle. But now, I find looking at original pieces of art a similar experience to wandering about the old castles and imaginging the ancient lives of those whose footsteps I follow. I looked at Hokusai`s art, and felt like I was touching on something personal – imagining his hand making that solid, definite brushstroke. This is sounding a lot more pretenious than I meant it to…but perhaps words simply are not enough or the right expression for everything.
HOORAY FOR ART!