Born with the name Tokitaro, in the Katsushika district of Edo, Japan, Hokusai was raised as an artisan and learned the art of engraving by a very early age. Continuing his interest and yearning to further develop and polish his skills and techniques, Hokusai took apprentice to a local woodcarver when he was just 14 and sparked his talents even more. He joined the Painting and Printmaking School of Katsukawa Shunsho at 18, where he began acquiring the skill of ‘ukiyo-e printmaking’ and excelled under the teachings of Shunsho till 1785. He remained loosely connected to the school after leaving it, despite taking lessons from other masters and learning new western techniques.
Though Japanese painters and print makers have many names throughout their life, to denote to their works, Hokusai outdid the concept of pseudonyms with a collection of over 75 names. He produced many beautiful prints and works between 1785 and 1797 including brush paintings, book illustrations and ‘surimono’- lavish prints commissioned privately, under many of these names. In 1797, Hokusai finally emancipated himself from all institute associations and started to fashion his work as an independent artist under the name Hokusai, yet he persisted to exercise the use of a wide range of other names to label his art.
The first of one of his most popular ‘Manga Volumes’ capturing the ‘Scenes of everyday life’ of a Japanese man, was released in 1814 and featured more of a sketch-like concept. He continued to gain fame through his creations, especially with his famous place pictures known as ‘meisho-e’. A part of which featured the acclaimed series ‘Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji’, including the iconic ‘Great Wave off Kanagawa’ crafted during 1826-1833. Another of his famous landscape series, ‘Shokoku Taki Meguri’, A Journey to the Waterfalls of All the Provinces, also left a mark in the Japanese world of art.
Walking opposite to orthodox surroundings and towards the development of Japan, Hokusai’s collections of fine detailing and woodblock prints incorporated western perspectives, which were thought to be daring and unconventional in Japan at the time. His innovative techniques and outlook on the ordinary locations revolutionized Japanese landscape under his name, winning him new popularity. In the 1820’s, Dutch traders brought Prussian blue pigment to Nagasaki, Japan and Hokusai wasted no time to explore and experiment with it, integrating it into his later woodblock prints. The use of the rich, dense shade gave his works a better sense of depth than tradition colorants, distinguishing his work from others and highlighting his ‘modern take’ on things.
During a span of 20 years, through 1817-1835, Hokusai’s artistic career flourished and his students multiplied while, ironically, his personal life was unsettled and his marriages met with unfortunate ends. He changed his residence numerous times to various towns, villages and cities, searching for new inspiration and breaking societal shambles, before finally passing away on the 10th of May, 1849. Even after his passing, his work remained idolized along with his teachings and had a profound influence on Western art and towards the development of Japonism.
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