Transcendent Art – Hokusai

I re-watched a BBC documentary about Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai last night, via the iPlayer app, and was struck by the power that his art (particularly the painting) possesses to send me into something of a transcendental state. I gasped aloud when this particular painting appeared:

hokusai_ducks_british_museum
Painting of ducks by Katsushika Hokusai copyright the British Museum.

Despite my love of visual art, particularly painting, illustration and Japanese woodcut printing, it has always been music and narrative that has ‘moved’ me to tears or joy. I’m not going to try to fathom out why I feel the way I do when I see these works as, for me, this would spoil the experience but, by cracky (as the late, great John Noakes would have said) there is something here that addresses what it is to be human and to experience existence in this world.

Doesn’t Hokusai capture the very essence of duck in the main figure? It is almost alive.

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2 thoughts on “Transcendent Art – Hokusai

  1. I have a sligbt inkling why this moved you, though for me it inhabits the boundaries between the real (or at least representative) world perceived by the senses—the ducks, the leaves—and the dream world of a watery environment that’s more like the symbolic waves seen in, say, Noh plays, suggested by rippling drapes of cloth across the stage.

    There is visually a powerful whirlpool effect drawing me in, but for the floating duck and its diving companion it’s their natural environment.

    The ‘water’, too, is almost cyclonic, the leaves whirled around by an invisible wind made visible. It’s the ambiguity of this image that for me makes this so powerful, movement in stasis, in/out of water, the curious perspective, the elongated composition that suggests we’re viewing only part of the picture and that we may well be mistaken in our interpretations. Something to meditate on, certainly, though without certainty.

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