‘Great Wave Off Kanagawa’, ‘La Vague d’Hokusai’ or ‘The Wave’ – by Katushika Hokusai (1760 – 1849) an artist and printmaker of the Edo or classical period. Hokusai was a prolific artist, and his paintings were popular in his lifetime, and in Europe and have become world famous since. It has been said that Monet was deeply influenced by Hokusai. He originated Hokusai Manga (manga = random drawings, so no connection with the modern usage of manga), a body of reference for other artists (some fifteen volumes).
In this painting, the waves have claws and are menacing, the humans in tiny boats are, by comparison, vulnerable and at the mercy of nature. Mt. Fuji in the background also dominates, the only natural thing not threatened by the water.
The connection to vague is of course the French translation = a wave of panic swept over me. So, in French the title implies what the painting is showing, the wave about to sweep over the fishermen.
Hokusai was concerned for the decline of society and was also seeing the end of the classical period. The painting shows judgement, the wave about to sweep over the fishermen and the community was a judgement on the people. I would retitle it – Nature Strikes Back.
The perspective of Hokusai is striking, because he is commnicating that the way Japanese society was behaving – it could not, should not continue.
But that is more real for us today because we have intervened in nature, with chemicals, polution, clearing, salinity, depletion of species, nature can strike back as a result of the changes it faces. Researchers have long been saying that weather patterns are changing, rainfall has changed, the earth’s atmosphere is warming. The positive is that there are many who are working hard to get our attention and change that.
In a more personal sense the painting speaks of consequences, if we don’t care for ourselves, if we don’t check our excesses, if we don’t care for others, then there are consequences that will affect us. Without reflective time, without some quiet within the daily, without healthy diet and exercise, without love and loving, without the capacity to listen and to share, to be creative, we are at risk of life sweeping over us with claws waiting to consume us. Mindfulness is not a mystery, it simply learning to to put our ego drive away and focus on the real self and its potential and relations. to use a cliche – stop and smell the roses.
But unlike the fishermen in the painting we are not at the mercy of such things, we can (we must) stop and take time, and we can work together on the crises that seem to surround us. And not in the least to begin to challenge the work ethic which will consume us first if we don’t.
Nature rises up the claws of consequence time to paint