Three of Hokusai Katsushika’s prints titled The Great Wave off Kanagawa, from the series Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji, hang in The Rodger L. and Pamela Weston Wing on the entrance level of The Art Institute of Chicago. Upon entering the south entrance of the Japanese wing, departing from The Chauncey McCormick gallery, the prints are the first presented in gallery 107, on the east wall. While facing The Great Wave off Kanagawa, to the right are pages from the three volumes of One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji.
Katsushika Hokusai also created these. One Hundred views of Mount Fuji were crafted between 1834-35, 1849 and are woodblock printed books. The Japanese’s color woodblock prints of The Great Wave off Kanagawa were created just before, in 1830-33. Since The Great Wave off Kanagawa is a print, multiple prints were produced. The Great Wave off Kanagawa prints feature a great breaking wave about to engulf three small fishing vessels. The dominant wave consumes more than half of the space and frames Mount Fuji in the distance. Three tiny boats and an even smaller peak of Mount Fuji seem to serve only to highlight the force of the water.
The dramatically curved, upwards line of the wave acts as hooks or claws which almost personify the wave into a predator grasping at its target; the fishermen in delicate fishing boats seem to have no chance against the water. Hokusai uses implied lines seen with the course of the ‘falling’ sea foam. These lines suggest gravity and the direction of seas surface. The horizon also shows implied line where the form of Mount Fuji and the sky meet; the implied line also gives the prints an atmospheric perception. Though, Hokusai primarily uses outline. He does this to portray the shape of many forms displayed. This is seen in the wave, fisher boats, fishing men, and Mount Fuji. The outline is additionally helpful while capturing the position the fishermen are in. Hokusai use foreshadowing to depict that the fishing men are hovering in the boats.
The line used to shape their backs is curved and suggesting they are bent over. Their heads are also hovering over to where the belly would normally be and he gives the viewer a sense the form is nearly circular. Hokusai also uses line to capture the boundaries of three-dimensional forms; contour lines specifically, as shown in the three fishing boats riding the wave. By using pronounced diagonal lines at the peak of the fishing boats, Hokusai suggests direction and movement. Consequently, the curved line of the wave going against the diagonal lines of the fishing boats forms conflict between the two. This conflict is balanced asymmetrically rather than symmetrical or relief balance.
A sense of movement is conveyed since the elements of composition are unbalanced by the great breaking wave entrapping the three boats. Since these prints are two-dimensional the artworks are composed of shapes. The shapes boundaries are created by line and a shift in color. This color shift is seen in the organic shapes of the waves and the dark blue against the pale blue met in the waves propose form of nature. This color shift also applies in the horizon. When viewing the work take notice that behind Mount Fuji the grey tone fades into organic shapes. These shapes suggest the forms of clouds and possibly these waves are in cause of a thunderstorm. The shapes that form the background are implied because you mental detach the sky from its surroundings. Organic shapes are also seen in the light blue forms on the waves. These shapes suggest texture and give a more natural impression to the claw-like forms. In these prints, the light source is not seen.
Though, the light source is suggested in the wave and the implied horizon line. The light color seen on the top of the wave, which assuming is the paper color, depicts higher tide. As well as all mentioned techniques, this is shown in all three of the prints. Mount Fuji, in the far distance, is surrounded by a grey hue in just the first two of the prints. The dull value of the hue surrounding the mountain suggests that the image takes place during early morning and the sun is rising at vantage point.
Though, in the third print nearest to Hokusai’s work of One Hundred views of Mount Fuji, a tint of red is shown, just above Mount Fuji. Which suggest the time that may elapsed between these three prints and that the sun has probably risen above the mountain. Hokusai created an atmospheric perspective with the light hues similarly. The prints show light color to depict the distance of the horizon. Even though, Katsushika Hokusai, woodblock prints were done with a restricted palette rather than an open palette, he was able to create a few significant elements in his work. His color palette was limited to the value of the paper, blue, gray, and low intensity of brown, with exclusion of the tint of red shown in the third print. Using the low intensity colors to draw your attention the dark wave creating contrast.
The colors of the waves also create shapes that help the viewer define the direction of the wave. Hokusai does this by creating a pattern of saturated dark blues inline with shapes of light saturated blues. The pattern implies texture, which helps to separate Mount Fuji in the distance. This separation between the wave and Mount Fuji is necessary due to the restricted palette; the mountains peak is in such color relation to the waves that it would be near impossible to distinguish it. The color schemes of the waves are monochromatic. By using varying shades of blue to depict the harmony of the wave. The wave’s claw-like sea foam creates a texture element in this piece as well. By using light blue organic shapes juxtaposition with the white of the paper, the claw-like forms create a visual texture.
By using overlapping, Hokusai, creates implied space. He suggests that Mount Fuji is in the distance by only seeing partial form of the mountain and that by being upward of the wave. The large wave’s position overlaps the mountain; this implies the form is in front of the mountain. This same concept applies with the fisher’s boats also. The wave is overlapping all three of the boats suggesting they are in a distance of the wave. Though, when observing the boats you notice that the boats vary in size and arrangement, creating linear perspective. The boat that is largest to the bottom of the prints suggests that it is closer to the observer.
This effect is corresponding to the other two boats as they are placed upward in the prints. The equal lights and dark hues in the prints create an asymmetrical balance. Even though the wave is in forward position, the darkest value, and is the largest form in the prints, Mount Fuji has a very important role. The mountain is closely centered in the prints and is also framed by the wave, which gives another sense of unity. At first, the scale of the large wave seems to be the focal point of design in this composition. This could be true because the form is larger than any other form in the prints. For instance, directly comparing the proportion of the wave to Mount Fuji or the fishermen gives the viewer the sense that it’s exaggerated. This is contributing to the waves hierarchical scale and therefore dominates emphases.
The contrasting light values of Mount Fuji, the horizon, and tone of the fishing boats creates this asymmetrical balance. Besides the wave being at a larger scale, the wave is also a more complex form with the textures and dark values. This draws the viewer’s attention directly to the wave. Hokusai composition creates a voyage for his viewers. The dramatically sized wave curves upwards to create a boarder around the mountain, then the claw-like forms of the waves deliver the viewer to pale Mount Fiji in the distance. Moving down the mountain with helpful assistance given from the dark hues surrounding the mount, you are lead back to the wave.
Though, not without satisfaction Hokusai places three forms of a lighter value, competing with the light value of the sea foam, in the residence of chaos. The direction followed as this and not reversed because of the optical color mixing Hokusai created. The viewer’s firsts notices the wave and the value they have not leaves the tones in the distance and therefore creates a direction specified for the observers. The Great Wave off Shore at Kanagawa has a direct emphasis on unity and variety. By creating a composition using textures, patterns, colors, and shapes to create a visual harmony. He has carefully selected the choice of shapes and space in his prints to create contrasting but balancing areas of interest. His emphasis of the wave by using subordination was extremely effective.
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