Variously translated as The Hollow of a Wave off the Coast at Kanagawa, The Breaking Wave off Kanagawa or The Great Wave off Kanagawa (but often referred to just as The Great Wave) this exceptionally bold, colour wood-block print is instantly recognisable.

It was created by Katsushika Hokusai around 1831 as part of his series Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji. It went against the dominant fashion at that time for civilised prints of nobility, shoguns, geisha, flowers or scenes of legend. Despite this, it now represents typical japanese art from that period for many people and can be found on postcards, screensavers and cheap posters on the walls of many student bedrooms, including mine.

The first thing I see when I look at the picture is the collosal dark form of the breaking wave topped with pure white foam spreading out to a hundred clawing fingers. Although the fingers are evenly sized thay are arranged in almost a fractal pattern. This gives the wave a slightly unreal appearance, but not so much that you doubt its menace. The crowned hump of a smaller (but still impressive) supports the greater one. The cowering heads arranged neatly along the side betray the presence of three fishing boats. The boats lay in the lap of the wave, following the line of the trough almost perfectly as the wave rear above them. In the background, easily mistakeable for another wave is the snow-capped peak of the sacred Mt. Fuji, utterly dwarfed by the watery turmoil in the foreground.

View the scene at the largest scale for a while and you might become aware of the inverted wave of negative space that compliments the wave, like Yin and Yang1

Take a look at the image at:
http://www.ludd.luth.se/users/jingoo/anime/blandat/kss018/greatwave.html

Sources:

  • http://www.andreas.com/hokusai/
  • http://www.ee.umanitoba.ca/~kinsner/about/gwave.html
1Ta to P_I for pointing this out.

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