Manjii: the old man crazy to paint

in late eighteenth-century Japan, Hokusai reinvents traditional graphic forms

In the history of music has known a number of "giants": men whose long lives permitted them to experience epochal changes without being overwhelmed by them, but who continued until the end of their days to look for ways of opening up the route to future times.
Claudio Monteverdi with his 8 books of madrigals, takes us by the hand ,volume after volume, from the Renaissance into the Baroque period inventing melodic, harmonic, orchestral solutions which did not exist before him and which, after him became the academic norm for musicians. And how can we but be astonished at the immensity of Beethoven who overcame the obstacles of old age and illness to deliver to posterity a store of incredibly universal music. We might continue with extraordinary figures like Stravinsky or Haydn, musicians who have never known a time when their music became out-dated, because they themselves embodied the avant-garde.

This characteristic is not typical of musicians only. It suffices to recall figures like figure di Michelangelo or Picasso, but here we wish to recall an artist who is less known in the west: Katsushika Hokusai, born in Japan in 1760, who died at the age of 89 in the mid-nineteenth century. A painter, engraver, illustrator and prominent member of the artistic current known as the "Fluctuating World" and one of the first Japanese artists whose works reached his European contemporaries at a time when Japan was undergoing overwhelming, vortical transformations.

Hokusai began his artistic career, in fact, by producing minor art forms: postcards, shop signs, illustrations for satirical books and children's stories. In the early nineteenth century he created a huge pictorial work, of roughly 350 square metres, depicting a Zen patriarch, and a short time later a similar one depicting the god Hotei. He then began to publish his prints in the traditional ukiyo- e style, revised completely by him in both topics and technique: "Famous sights of the capital of the East", "Mirror images in Dutch style - Eight views of Edo". However he encountered economic difficulties, and fell back on the illustration and published the fifteen volumes of the "Hokusai manga", in 1814 ".

Always pressed by economic difficulties, around the age of seventy he was struck by apoplexy, yet in those years he produced his most significant works, namely the series of prints "Views of famous bridges", "Famous waterfalls in various provinces "," Thirty-six views of Mount Fuji ".
From the age of six on, I loved copying the shape of things, and from the age of fifty on I often published drawings, but up until the age of seventy I produced nothing worthy of consideration. At seventy-three I gained a little insight into the essence of the structure of animals and birds, insects and fish, the life of herbs and plants, and therefore, at eighty-six, I shall progress further; at ninety I shall have gone more deeply into hidden meaning and at one hundred years of age I may have truly reached the dimension of the divine and the marvellous. When I am a hundred and ten, even a single point or a line will have a life of its own. If I may make a wish, I pray that those among the gentlemen who will live a long enough, to check whether what I claim will prove unfounded. A declaration of Manji the old fool for painting.
Katsushika Hokusai, afterword to hundred views of Mount Fuji

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