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Inspiring Artists: Katsushika Hokusai

Katsushika Hokusai (1760 – 1849) was a Japanese artist, and printmaker in the Edo period. His works are compositions and stories coveyed through woodblock and ink. Who has not seen The Great Wave off Kanagawa. and felt the power captured? Interestingly, Hokusai was known by at least thirty names during his lifetime which was a common practice of Japanese artists of the time and his number of pseudonyms exceeds that of any other major Japanese artist.

Hokusai was born in Edo (now Tokyo) and his exact date of birth is unclear. He was born into an artisan family, in the Katsushika district and his childhood name was Tokitarō. His father was believed to be the mirror-maker Nakajima Ise, who produced mirrors for the shogun.

At the age of 12, his father sent him to work in a bookshop and lending library, a popular type of institution in Japanese cities, where reading books made from wood-cut blocks was a popular entertainment of the middle and upper classes. At 14, he worked as an apprentice to a wood-carver, until the age of 18, when he entered the studio of Katsukawa Shunshō who was an artist of ukiyo-e, a style of wood block prints and paintings that Hokusai would later master. During the decade he worked in Shunshō's studio, Hokusai was married to his first wife, and after her death he married again in 1797, who also died after a short time. However he fathered two sons and three daughters with these two wives.

Upon the death of Shunshō , Hokusai began exploring other styles of art, including European styles he was exposed to through French and Dutch copper engravings he was able to acquire. He was expelled from the Katsukawa school by Shunkō, this in his own words was inspirational: "What really motivated the development of my artistic style was the embarrassment I suffered at Shunkō's hands." He now focused on landscapes and images of the daily life of Japanese people from a variety of social levels. He adopted the name Hokusai Tomisa and then again to the name he would most widely be known by, Katsushika Hokusai.

During a Tokyo festival in 1804, he created a portrait of the Buddhist priest Daruma said to be 600 feet long using a broom and buckets full of ink. He soon gained wide audience and illustrated many books and works for the Shogun. At the age of 51, Hokusai changed his name to Taito and entered the period in which he created the Hokusai Manga and various art manuals. These manuals, beginning with Quick Lessons in Simplified Drawing, served as a convenient way to make money and attract more students. Manga included studies in perspective and it was the first book of Hokusai's manga, sketches or caricatures that influenced the modern form of comics known by the same name. His 12 volumes of manga published between 1814 and 1820 and three more published posthumously include thousands of drawings is a collection of sketches (of animals, people, objects, etc.), different from the story-based comic-book style of modern manga.imals, religious figures, and everyday people. They often have humorous overtones, and were very popular at the time.

In October 5, 1817 he painted at the Hongan-ji Nagoya Betsuin in Nagoya the Big Daruma on paper. It measured 18 x 10.8 metres and although the original was destroyed in 1945, promotional handbills from that time survived and are preserved at the Nagoya City Museum.

In 1820, Hokusai changed his name yet again, this time to "Iitsu," a change which marked the start of a period in which he secured fame as an artist throughout Japan. His most famous work, Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji, including the famous Great Wave off Kanagawa, was produced in the early 1830s. The results of Hokusai's perspectival studies in Manga can be seen here in The Great Wave off Kanagawa where he uses what would have been seen as western perspective to represent depth and volume. It proved so popular that Hokusai later added ten more prints to the series.

Hokusai also produced erotic works, called Shunga which were enjoyed by both men and women of all classes. The Tale of Genji. Shunga may have served as sexual guidance for the sons and daughters of wealthy families.

Hokusai had a long career, but he produced most of his important work after age 60. His most popular work is the ukiyo-e series Hokusai never stopped painting, and completed Ducks in a Stream at the age of 87.

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