6
Ukiyo-e Hokusai Koiai
by Taccia

 

It would be impossible to overstate the importance of Asian art, and particularly the movement known as japonisme, for fin-de-siècle aesthetics. Japonisme was all about remaking the Asian sensibility in a decadent European way, and it led to both the establishment of important collections of art work in the West, as well as the incorporation of Asian elements into the work of major western artists in the nineteenth century. The work of Van Gogh is a good example.

One of the most important Japanese artists lionized by this movement was the print maker Hokusai. He also produced vast quantities of manga, that is, sketches of every aspect of ordinary life.

One of his most iconic works, from the series of "views of Mount Fuji," is the "Under the Great Wave off the Coast of Kanagawa," which has been borrowed and reproduced in innumerable objects (a small selection is shown here).

This series of inks by Taccia pays homage to Hokusai, along with other artists who depicted the so-called "floating world," that is, the world of fleeting dreams and pleasures, in their "ukiyo-e" wood block prints. This month's ink (which comes in a box with the great wave on it) is designated as "dark indigo." Indigo plays an important role in creating the blue that characterizes much Japanese art (especially fabrics), but the particular blue of the Great Wave print is actually a different blue, Prussian Blue. Interestingly, this color was, in Hokusai's time, a recent German (hence Prussian) development, so that in bringing the color back to the West through his prints, Hokusai was completing a circle in which the West first sent the color to Asia.

 

It is also interesting to note that Hokusai was a creator of "Yellow Books." Given the role of "the" Yellow Book in decadent culture of the 1890s, I wonder if the title of that publication wasn't chosen partly in homage to the yellow books of japonisme.

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