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The Great Wave off Kanagawa

The Great Wave off Kanagawa refers to a woodblock[1] print by Katsushika Hokusai, a Japanese artist that was published towards the end of the Edo period between 1828 and 1834. The print is was the first of a series of prints produced by Hokusai providing different views[2] of Mount Fuji, Japan’s most important and famous mountain. The print is known by other names[3] including “The Great Wave,” “Under a wave off Kanagawa,” or simply as “The Wave.” Today, prints made from the original woodblock can be found in different museums around the world including the British Museum. Thousands of prints were produced given that this piece of work is a print. All of them portray three small vessels used for fishing a moment before they are engulfed in a breaking wave[4]. The main wave occupies approximately half of the space. Mount Fuji appears far away behind the wave.

Hokusai created dramatically curved lines of waves to face in an upward direction, presenting them as claws. The artist personifies the wave given that it appears like a predator preying on its target. From the first glance on the art, it appears that the people in those boats will not escape. Implied lines are evident from the path taken by the sea foam. It is evident that the artist used them to suggest the direction followed by the sea surface and gravity. The implied line is also evident from the horizon at the point where the sky and Mount Fuji meet, thereby giving the print an atmosphere of perception. Additionally, Hokusai employs an outline to show the shape of different forms that are presented on the print. The outline is evident in fishermen’s boats, the mountain, the wave, and the men that are in the boats. One can tell that the men are in still in the boats through the foreshadowing used by the artist.The Great Wave off Kanagawa

Judging from the curved nature of the line that shapes their backs, it is evident that all of them are bent over. Furthermore, Hokusai captures three-dimensional forms using lines. To be specific, he uses contour lines to represent boundaries of these forms. At the peak of the three fishing boats that have been shown riding the wave, pronounced diagonal lines are evident imply both direction and movement.

Hokusai’s print is two-dimensional. Consequently, all the objects present on the print are represented by means of shapes. To show shape boundaries, the artist has employed both shifts in color and lines. Color shifts are evident in the waves’ organic shapes. Additionally, the uses a pale shade of blue against a darker shade of blue, indicating a form of nature. Color shift is also seen on the horizon. The artwork is such that the grey tone behind Mount Fuji fades into forms that are not evident in nature. Probably, the artist could have intended to portray forms of cloud. The shapes provided at the background are implied: the sky has been placed in relationship with the surroundings and one has to mentally detach it from this background. Additionally, light blue color that is evident in the waves reveals organic shapes, shapes that appear asymmetrical in nature and with a curvy flow. Apart from providing a natural impression on this piece, the shapes also suggest texture. It should be noted that light source is not a factor in all the artwork because it is not seen. The Great Wave off Kanagawa

A closer look at the print, however, reviews that the artist has suggested light source as it is seen from the waves as well as the use of an implied horizon line. At the top of the wave is a light color, which can be assumed to depict the highest tide. Mount Fuji, which can be seen at the background, is covered in a grey color. Without a doubt, the dullness brought about by this grey color covering the mountain indicates that the image is taken early in the morning when the sun is just rising. Taking a second closer analysis of the print reveals that Hokusai uses a dark grey color to add an atmospheric perspective to his work. The combines light and grey colors to illustrate the horizon’s distance. Moreover, he adds colors to the waves, making it possible for the viewer to identify the direction taken by these waves. To achieve this, the artist employs a pattern consisting of light-saturated blue shapes that are in line with dark blue ones. This pattern suggests texture. Moreover, it serves to distinguish Mount Fuji at the background. The peak of the Mountain has the same color as the waves. Without the kind of separation that Hokusai uses, it would have been difficult for the viewer to distinguish the mountain from the wave. Monochromatic color schemes are used to depict the waves. Consequently, the artist employs different shades of blue to illustrate the harmonic waves. Additionally, the artist gives the wave a claw-like form[5], adding visual texture to this piece of art. King describes the appearance of the wave as a giant dragon’s claw.The Great Wave off Kanagawa

With respect to space, it is evident that the artist uses overlapping, a technique that enabled him to create implied space. The print shows a partial form of Mount Fuji, suggesting that it is far in distance behind the wave. Moreover, the position of the highest wave overlaps the Mount Fuji, thereby showing that the mountain is distance behind the wave. Similarly, the wave overlaps the three boats. A keen observer will notice that the boats are some distance from the wave[6]. It is also worth noting that a linear perspective is created by the boats through their variation in both arrangement and size. The boat that appears to be the largest at the bottom is the one near the wave and closest to the observer.

Asymmetrical balance is created in the print through the use of equal dark grey color and lights. Even though the wave occupies a forward position and is the largest shape in the print, the mountain, on the other hand, plays a major role. Apart from being centered in the art, it is framed by the wave thereby creating a sense of unity. At first glance, a viewer is meant to believe that the focal point of the portrait is the large wave based on its huge scale. The wave’s form exceeds that of any other object in the print. In fact, by simply comparing Mount Fuji to the wave or the men in the boats, one sees an element of exaggeration. The hierarchical scale of the waves lays some emphasis on the waves. Moreover, asymmetrical balance is created by the differing strikingly appearance of the horizon, the boats, and the mountain. Besides the larger size of the wave, it is also evident that the dark values, as well as the texture of the wave, gives it a more complex appearance, drawing the attention of the viewer to it.

It is evident that the Great Wave off Kanagawa lays great weight on variety and unity. Hokusai artistically uses shapes, colors, patterns, as well as textures to establish visual harmony. The artist has made careful use of space and selection of shapes to present areas of interest in his piece of art. His emphasis on both the wave and the mountain through subordination was to a large extent, successful.The Great Wave off Kanagawa

The Great Wave off Kanagawa[7]

 

 

 

Bibliography

 

 

Cartwright, Julyan, and Hisami Nakamura. “What kind of a wave is Hokusai’s Great wave off Kanagawa?.” Notes and Records of the Royal Society 63, no. 2 (2009): 119-135.

Dudley, John Michael, Véronique Sarano, and Frédéric Dias. “On Hokusai’s Great wave off Kanagawa: localization, linearity and a rogue wave in sub-Antarctic waters.” Notes and Records of the Royal Society 67, no. 2 (2013): 159-164.

King, James. Beyond the Great Wave: The Japanese Landscape Print, 1727-1960. New York. Peter Lang, 2010.

Kiss, Cintia. “Imagining Place: How Do Katsushika Hokusai’s Landscape Prints Combine Local and Transcultural Elements? A Consideration of Cultural Appropriation.” Master’s thesis, 2018.

Ornes, Stephen. “Science and Culture: Dissecting the Great Wave.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 111 (2014): 1

 

 

[1] Stephen Ornes. “Science and Culture: Dissecting the Great Wave.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 111, no. 37 (2014): 1

[2] Cintia Kiss. “Imagining Place: How Do Katsushika Hokusai’s Landscape Prints Combine Local and Transcultural Elements? A Consideration of Cultural Appropriation.” (2018), 41.

[3] Cintia “Imagining Place,” 32.

[4] John Dudley, Michael, Véronique Sarano, and Frédéric Dias. “On Hokusai’s Great wave off Kanagawa: localization, linearity and a rogue wave in sub-Antarctic waters.” Notes and Records of the Royal Society 67, no. 2 (2013): 1

[5] James King. Beyond the Great Wave: The Japanese Landscape Print, 1727-1960. (New York. Peter Lang, 2010), 3.

 

[6], Julyan Cartwright and Hisami Nakamura. “What kind of a wave is Hokusai’s Great wave off Kanagawa?.” Notes and Records of the Royal Society 63, no. 2 (2009), 123.

 

[7] Stephen Ornes. “Science and Culture: Dissecting the Great Wave.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences