Hokusai was one of the great masters of the Japanese woodblock print. His exquisite compositions and dynamic use of color set him apart from other printmakers, and his unequalled genius influenced both Japanese and a whole generation of Western artists. Now available for the first time in paperback, this book reproduces the artist's finest works in plates that convey the full variety of his invention, each of which is provided with an authoritative commentary.
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Forrer starts this book with about 35 pages of historical notes, which sketch Hokusai's career and the social milieu in which he lived, albeit with some maddening omissions. The timeline on page 37 notes a brief period in which he was "reduced to penury" - something the narrative seems to skip over.
No matter, this book is really about the artwork: 130+ works, prints with a few drawings, in color or B&W to match the original work. Opaque, bright paper carries the printing well. Colors tend not to be saturated, something that disappointed me until I realized that it's probably true to the natural fading of inks 150-200 years old. In fact, the one real annoyance in the printing (plate 85) could have gotten its over-processed look from a misguided attempt to pull more contrast from a faded print than the print had to give.
A few paragraphs describe each image. The more helpful notes identify the site of a scene, or pick out "product placement" of the publisher's name among kanji characters that I could not make sense of unaided. A few times, descriptions of the obvious seemed un-needed. In a number of places, the author added art-historian notes on the different inking of other known impressions of an image. That could have been helpful in a more scholarly study, but the brevity of this catalog makes such detail seem a bit much.
None of that detracts from the art itself. Although the pieces aren't presented chronologically, they cover many parts of Hokusai's career. They include extracts from several series of prints, including the famous "36 Views of Mt. Fuji." No series appears in its entirety (the brevity I mentioned earlier), but I was happy to see selections from groups that I had not heard of before. Of course, the later work includes a few specimens of Hokusai's shunga - the erotic images that so startle a Western eye. This doesn't catalog Hokusai's work exhaustively or give the most detailed history of his life. It does, however, present a gorgeous collection of his work, a collection that goes well beyond what you might expect of an introduction.
Hokusai:Mountains & Water; Flowers & Birds Oct 27, 2004
Hokusai is to the educated Western eye synonymous with Japanese art. Indeed, "the Great Wave at Kanagawa" represents all the powerful symmetry of the simple, direct force of line drawing and pointillism and the clean coloration that has come to symbolize the zen eye. While these gorgeous studies are woodcuts, their place in the artistic firmament is assured at least for those of us in the West. This beautifully designed collection has sewn-in signatures and features The Wave on its cover and contains over four dozen satin-finish reproductions from Katsushika Hokusai's nature theme portfolio. The editor, Matthi Forrer gives us 16 pages of biographical and historical commentary. It should be noted that much of the Nature work of Hokusai was accomplished in his seventh decade (he lived to about 90). To spend time with these pieces is to enjoy a whimsical and light-spirited romp through a time in Japan when it was barely open to any significant degree of Western influence. His work is fanciful and yet done with grace and simplicity. It is the technique of a painter who not only knows his medium, but manages to add the wry and jaded perspective of serendipity. At the same time Hokusai was pouring forth his woodblock prints, it is worthwhile to remind ourselves that the skies over much of southern England were darkened and polluted by the cranking-up of the machinery of the Industrial Revolution. The unselfconscious qualities of these colorful prints show people of leisure and workers alike, but it is a depiction of society that has yet to feel the impact of dehumanizing and Nature-damaging machinery. Plate #14 is a fine example. While showing workers in a lumberyard, the movements of the bodyframes tossing wood suggests a flow of energy that is natural and contrasts with the death and injury brought to their counterparts in the West by the forces of industrialization. We can only imagine what a simpler life and times for Hokusai's countrymen must have been like and which these prints reflect. One can sit with and contemplate his elegant immutable cranes (plate #32) for hours. This is a wonderful, rich compilation and Prestel Publishing gets major kudos for producing this affordable volume.
disappointing Sep 3, 2001
Unlike Matthi Forrer's previous effort, entitled "Hokusai" (now sadly out of print), and which by far exceeded the current volume both in size (litterally, having been close to A3 format) as well as depth and scope, this issue is hampered by a diminished quality of graphical reproduction (small-sized images, mostly black & white), as well as an almost complete omission of Hokusai's accomplished late works - which are mostly colour paintings on silk (kakemono), rather than the more familiar ukyo-e prints. Overall a regrettable step back.
Great Art But Poor Writing Feb 19, 2000
This book gets 3 stars for the beautiful reproductions of Hokusai's work. There are approximately 130 plates, most of them in gorgeous color. But I found the text by Mr. Forrer to be very disappointing. There is an opening chapter of around 30 pages which is meant to give you some information about Hokusai and Japanese art in general. It is very straighforward and written in a dry manner. I was hoping for more of a biographical sketch of Hokusai but did not get it. Mr. Forrer writes that "apparently Hokusai lived for his art". Is that supposed to mean that he didn't have a life? I doubt that is the case but unfortunately it is how Mr. Forrer excuses the fact that he doesn't really tell us anything about the man who is generally thought to be the greatest artist Japan has ever produced. The descriptions that accompany the plates are equally disappointing. Hokusai worked mainly in woodblocks and Mr. Forrer spends a lot of time telling us about what variations (reproductions of which are not included) of these woodblocks looked like. He does this on page after page and I found it annoying. Mr. Forrer hammers home the same points on page after page rather than trying to make each plate interesting and distinctive. He keeps pointing out Hokusai's use of linear perspective and of his western style of painting skies (showing individual clouds rather than the traditional Japanese method of just painting a flat wash with some haze for the entire sky). This is interesting the first couple of times you read it but gets tedious after awhile. There is much more that could have been said about these works.If you just want to look at some pretty pictures you will enjoy this book. If you want a more complete picture you will need to look elsewhere.
Just a note of caution Feb 18, 2000
This is a wonderful high quality book. Hokusai's work is rich, intricate and completely captivating. Parents should just be aware that there are four or five plates in the very back of the book that are erotically explicit.