The Great Wave off Kanagawa is a woodblock print created by the Japanese artist Hokusai. It is the first image in a series entitled “36 Views of Mount Fuji” (in this particular scene, Mt. Fuji is the snow-covered peak seen jutting out from behind the massive, finger-tipped waves.) In the century and a half since its creation in 1832, it has become one of the most iconic images in the world of fine art, and to many it has become the visual distillation of that vague, exotic idea of what it was to be “Japanese.”
I have a personal attachment to this particular image. My father spent a few years of his childhood in Japan, and the aesthetic he saw there was mimicked in my childhood home. A print of The Great Wave hung on the wall for many years, and an identical copy belonged to my father’s brother, John. When John passed away a few years ago, I was allowed to take a keepsake from his house; I chose The Great Wave. Outside of Picasso’s Guernica, it has had the greatest impact on my development as an artist, and in fact I would make the claim that Japanese art of the early 1800s has had a massive influence on the development of painting, art, and design in the West — the bold, flat colors; stark outlines; and simplified, almost cartoonish rendering of people can all be found in the works of contemporary artists. In fact, some have even appropriated the design of The Great Wave for their own work (to great effect, I might add.) The issue of appropriation is a sticky one (and one that I will get into in more depth later), but I cannot help but adore anything that reminds me of Hokusai and his Great Wave.