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Monday, 24 August 2009

Hokusai's Great Wave off Kanagawa


The untold story : don't forget, you read it here first.




                                     Cresting the wave
                         was always his way - noted for it - painting
                the dragons of his day -

                                                              Three sheets
              of three-sheet-see-through usugami* fluttering
       in winds that whispered of a truth
unsayable by humankind. It caught the ear
                                            of tides beyond his ken
But Hokusai,
inventive
fanciful
had laid the tracing papers on the beach
off which in past times dragons had been known to pass
                                                    or fish from rocks.

His brush became a choreographer's, notating dance,
yet still continued as an instrument
of calligraphic grace.

The merest thought
that dragons might be out there,
somewhere,
fiery,
fired him up
and filled his head with images -
a plein air painter with no thought
for structure
or of form.

The ichiji Shita-e,*
sheet one - the under sheet: sheet music
for a fugue not yet performed -
                     received
                     the veins and arteries,
                     brains,
                     firebox, flues and dampers,
                     the bones
                     and muscle, sinews,
                     thirty vital organs, claws
                     and tongues of fire
                     straight from his brush.

On this was laid the oversheet,
to take on board the dragon's scales
from brushes charged with Prussian Blue
(the latest hue) and sensual jade.

                        Above the under- and the over-sheet,
the layout sheet, the final sheet, the Shita-e* -
to which, by tracing through,
the sketches were transferred,
then fastened to a board of cherry wood.

Job done: replenishing
the jar to clean the brushes,
dipping
brush tip - hardly
having broken surface tension
                     before a cloud of jade and Prussian blue
                                            extruding from the hairs,
                       swam down,
      round
                     spun
                     whirled
                     formed
                     reformed itself - a perfect replica
                                                a perfect dragon,
clone of,
bone from bone of that which he had visualised
                           conveyed
                           in veins and arteries,
                           brains, firebox, flues and dampers,
                           bones,
                           muscles, sinews, all
                           those vital organs,
                           claws and tongues of fire


Then Hokusai, with great care, carrying
the jar with living, breathing, spitting thing
                                                  down to the water's edge
                                        released it,
                              watched it swim
                    and grow with every stroke.

Back at the block of cherry wood he found
    the dragon faded to the tint and texture of its ground -
          except the claws, except the tongues of living fire,
                more vivid than he'd thought.


                                    Later it was said
                            that over the horizon
                        the dragon lashed its tail against a wave.
                    Riposte was swift: the sea
              unrolled itself
          tore out the trees
      and avalanched across the land.
                    So much went missing...
                    so many and so much...
          The tracing papers for a start:
     layout and individual parts.
Weeks later, with the shita-e* still be missing,
but the cherrywood block found;
       a something magical had happened:
              the wave had gouged the block
                  with its own signature;
                     cut deep and crisp into its cherry pattern,
the portrait of a wave.
The dragon's claws and tongues of fire
remained as spray and spume flakes
                                        cresting the great wave.


*Glossary
Usugami is a transparent paper that will take paint and inks. Its special characteristic is that it remains completely clear and transparent through several thicknesses. This allows sketches and preparatory drawings etc to be laid on top of each other. These are known as Ichiji Shita-e and by superimposing them the artist can build up the desired layout, before tracing it on to the Shita-e, the final design. Hokusai very definitely used this method - there are sheets still extant - though maybe not for The Great Wave off Kanagawa. He used them for complicated compositions involving many figures.( Sorry I couldn't give the names in the original language.)

29 comments:

Totalfeckineejit said...

An epic tale (Tail?) Dave, yet as intricate in craft and detail as a bonsai or a haiku. Beautifully sculpted ,an excellent piece of writing.

steven said...

dave - absolutely wickedgood writing. i love this unpacking of a familiar piece of hokusai's artwork. brilliant. thanks for starting my day off by compelling me to think!!! have a lovely day yourself! steven

Mariana Soffer said...

I love that paintor, and you did a wounderfull job with the poem moving along the wave, I was wondering if you knew his similar collegue which influenced impressionism and occident as well, here is some small info about them:

Ando Hiroshige was born in Edo and at first, like his father, was a fire warden. The prints of Hokusai are said to have first kindled in him the desire to become an artist, and he entered the studio of Utagawa Toyohiro, a renowned painter, as an apprentice. In 1812 Hiroshige took his teacher's name (a sign of graduation), signing his work Utagawa Hiroshige. His career falls roughly into three periods. From 1811 to about 1830 he created prints of traditional subjects such as young women and actors. During the next 15 years he won fame as a landscape artist, reaching a peak of success and achievement in 1833 when his masterpiece, the print series Fifty-three Stations of the Tokaido (scenes on the highway connecting Edo and Kyoto), was published. He maintained this high level of craftmanship in other travel series, including Celebrated Places in Japan and Sixty-nine Stations on the Kiso Highway.

With Hokusai, Hiroshige dominated the popular art of Japan in the first half of the 19th century. His work was not as bold or innovative as that of the older master, but he captured, in a poetic, gentle way that all could understand, the ordinary person's experience of the Japanese landscape as well as the varied moods of memorable places at different times.

Bye friend

Carl said...

Stunning Poem, Great Painting to see and a lesson... The perfect blogpost. Thank You Dave!

willow said...

Wonderful piece and lesson in art, as well. Thanks, Dave.

The Weaver of Grass said...

I am left speechless by the beauty of this piece Dave. Very well done indeed. Beautiful imagery.

Linda S. Socha said...

Beautiful,extremely well done and one of my favorite paintings.Thank you Dave
Linda

Titus said...

Thanks Dave, just excellent and will repay many more visits. I am no great fan of Japanese art but you held my attention and interest and it felt like I was riding a wave as I was reading. I am the better for having read it, and you can't say much more than that.

Kay said...

the art of art, captivatingly placed into words and thoughts, greatly done -the flow is just graceful

ScarletTd1ar1es said...

and i thought i was creative. you jus keep doing it u kno. making masterpeices. as gud as any other. :) dragons and waves. darn u r brilliant.

Madame DeFarge said...

Lovely painting and you did it justice most wonderfully.

Kathryn Magendie said...

This is gorgeous . . . the painting, the words ....

I rode the wave of your words - lovely....

Adrian LaRoque said...

Great post Dave!

Karen said...

I must print this so that I can enjoy the form as much as I did the words. I want to read and digest the many layers.

What a gift you have, Dave.

lakeviewer said...

This is a remarkable achievement, a story of an artist , and a process recounted. I like the way you layered this story with history, and brilliant imagery.

Cynthia said...

Hey Dave, love this poem that
reads like a myth. And the form
lends the poem the motion of
the sea.

Nancy said...

The words and art were lovely, and the lesson at the end very appreciated. Thank you.

Dave King said...

Totalfeckineejit
Thanks very much for those remarks.

steven
Oh, I do love "wicked"! Many thanks for the comment.
Regards.

Mariana
Thanks a lot for that. I did know the work of Hiroshige, but not all the info' that you have provided in your very comprehensive comments. It is very pleasing when someone takes so much time and trouble to reply.
Regards.

Carl
Much thanks for that.

willow
And my thanks to you.

The Weaver of Grass
Thank you so much for the generous comment.

Linda
Yes, thanks for that. I think it is an absolute little gem. Wonderful. I do not think there is a woodblock print to beat it - and you cannot always say something like that of art works that have gained such iconic status.

Titus
Many thanks for those kind words. I, too, am not a great fan of Japanese art, much preferring Chinese, if the truth were known, but I make an exception in the case of this print - and one or two more by Housai.

Kay
Welcome to my blog and sincere thanks for stopping by to comment. Much appreciated.

ScarletTd1ar1es
From my visits to your blog, I agree: you are creative. I do appreciate your kind remarks, though.

Madame DeFarge
Thanks very much for that.

Kathryn
A lovely remark. Thanks.

Adrian
Thanks Adrian.

Karen
Thank you very much. I do hope you enjoy it.

lakeviewer
It is really very good of you to say that. Thank you.

Cynthia
Welcome. I am so pleased you said that. The intention was to suggest wave forms, but I had some difficulty with formatting the HTML and it didn't work out quite as intended - so your remarks are very cheering.

Nancy
Welcome Nancy and many thanks for the comment.

Dick said...

A masterful piece of poetic commentary, Dave. One of your best so far.

readingsully2 said...

Powerful! and I love the visuals of the wave with the placement of your words. I felt the movement.

readingsully2 said...

I have a little something for you at my blog, if you would like it. :)

Dave King said...

Dick
Many thanks - hope you had a peaceful time away.

readingsully2
Thanks much appreciated - twice over. I shall be along.

Derrick said...

Hi Dave,

Wonderful indeed. I loved the idea of the dragon swirling in the paint water being released into the sea.

Dave King said...

Derrick
Thanks. I must say I quite enjoyed that bit. Glad you did.

jinksy said...

I've loved this image ever since my days at art college, when I did a collage for my own version of it.Your words have embroidered it in my mind today.

Harlequin said...

I echo others' sentiments here.. lovely work; I especially liked the haptic feel of it.... nicely done and not something easily achieved.

Crafty Green Poet said...

It's a painting I love and your poem is fascinating and well crafted, I like the layout, that somehow echoes the shape of the wave

Cloudia said...

So one of my favourite artists was an inspired anime pioneer!

wonderful, Dave!

aloha (I'm wave - ing)

GYPSYWOMAN said...

love love love this verse! i could see and hear and feel it all!