That Wave

That wave
Pulled me right overboard
Into permanent morgasm
Emotional action painting
I flew down to the bottom of the sea
Where I questioned the fishes all about it
I was in heaven
Address cloud eleven
They danced and laughed spelling all I fell into was love.

That Wave, Andy Partridge (from Nonsuch, 1992).

Strange to think in this day and age that there might once have been a time when buying or even seeing something Japanese might be near impossible. Sakoku, as it was known, commenced around 1635 and remained state policy for over 200 years. In that time, the Japanese government prevented foreigners from entering and citizens from leaving. Export and import was non-existent; the legal exchange of ideas, culture and goods were non-events. So, while Ukiyo-e prints could be found in Europe from around 1795 in Paris (through diplomatic and personal contacts, rather than commercial trade) it was not until the 1850s when Japan relaxed its laws and trade began to flourish that the craze for things Japanese began to go, well, crazy.

The story goes that French printmaker Felix Bracquemond (1833-1914) encountered a picture-book by Katsushika Hokusai that arrived in France with a shipment of porcelain in the late 1850s. In 1859, a sourcebook by the potter and designer Eugene Collinot and Adalbert de Beaumont included Hokusai’s imagery.

By the early 1860s, French intellectuals such as Charles Baudelaire and Edmond de Goncourt began to take interest. Of course, it is well documented that his work landed in the hands of a whole raft of French artists such as Claude Monet, who acquired 23 of the Japanese artist’s prints and Edgar Degas, who took cues from Hokusai, in particular his thousands of sketches of the human form. The rapid embrace of his prints by European artists may have been in part due to his use of a Western-style vanishing point perspective. Other print designers in Japan employed the Asian perspective, which positioned far-away objects higher on the picture plane, an effect that, to a Western eye, made it appear as though the ground was tilting upwards.

Now you may not know the name Katsushika Hokusai. But I’m prepared to bet that you know at least one of his works: The Great Wave off the Coast of Kanagawa (Kanagawa-oki Nami-ura)’ from the series ‘Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji (Fugaku Sanjurokkei) (c.1830–32), more commonly known as The Great Wave. Arguably the most famous image in all of Japanese art, this iconic woodblock print depicts a huge, frothing wave that belittles and diminishes that other famous symbol of Japan, Mount Fuji – reduced in this image to an impotent ant hill. To reinforce the power of the wave, frightened and cowed fishermen cling for dear life to their boats, expecting the worse, praying for salvation.


Katushika Hokusai: The Great Wave off the Coast of Kanagawa, 1830. Woodblock print on paper.

Born in Edo (modern Tokyo) in 1760, Hokusai (to use one of his names) led a life that was both intensely productive and undeniably eccentric. I say one of his names because he used Hokusai (Studio of the North Star) from about 1798, when he was in his mid ‘40s and continued for a decade or so, through his 50s. This coincided with a time when his commercial output greatly diminished—a series of setbacks—intermittent paralysis, the death of his second wife, and serious misconduct by his wayward grandson—left him in financial straits. He changed his name in around 1725 to Iitsu and in response to his later life problems, funneled his energy into his work, beginning his famous series “Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji” (which included The Great Wave) in 1830. He went on to produce a vast output of ukiyo-e prints that have today come to define our modern view of him.

Hokusai’s final period began in 1834 when he started using his last name Gakyo-rojin Manji (Old Man Mad About Art). Here, he turned from commercial prints to book illustration and brush paintings. While these are powerful and message-laden creations, they somehow don’t match his peak period —the time of That Wave.

New Works

c3 Contemporary Art Space – current exhibitions
Abbotsford Convent, 1 St Heliers St Abbotsford
Open 10.00AM-5.00PM Wednesday to Sunday (closed Monday and Tuesday).
Closed June 12.


c3 Contemporary Art Space, Abbotsford

NESTLED in the under-story of the old convent in Abbotsford’s art precinct on the Yarra, c3 Contemporary Art Space has been a showcase for emerging artists for more than eight years. Currently, six artists are on show, presenting a veritable cornucopia of  different ideas, views, thoughts, objectives and interests. Culture, place, history and experience all provide a wealth of opportunity for artistic expression. Continue reading

M. Degas arrive en ville

Edgar Degas: <i>Frieze of Dancers</i>, oil on canvas, circa 1895

Edgar Degas: Frieze of Dancers, 1895. Oil on canvas. Cleveland Museum of Art.

IN SIX weeks, the National Gallery of Victoria International opens its latest Winter Masterpieces exhibition, Degas, a New Vision. Works have been drawn from collections across the globe and, in the words of the NGVI’s press office, offer a ‘fresh and dynamic reappraisal of this legendary artist’s genius.’ Continue reading

A New Caravaggio – or not….



Caravaggio (unverified) Judith beheading Holofernes c.1604, Discovered in Toulouse, 2014.

IN recent days, news of the discovery of a painting by Caravaggio has occupied and divided arts writers and critics, world-wide. Apparently disinterred in 2014 from the roof of a house in Toulouse, France, Judith beheading Holofernes (c.1604) has been subjected to scrutiny by a number of experts, not all of whom believe the work to be genuine. Continue reading

…I’m gonna look at the weird stuff over there


White Night 2016 – Carlton Exhibition Building, Melbourne

FUNNY the comments you hear in passing when you’re out and about. White Night 2016 – a celebration of all things artistic – came and went last Saturday night and in the intervening 36 hours the twitter-sphere has been abuzz with comment. Surprisingly, a lot of that comment has been somewhat grumpy.  I say surprising, because I had a ball.

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Between here and there

APW FitzroyCarolyn Hawkins, Sophie Westerman and Kasia Fabijańska
Australian Print Workshop, 210 Gertrude Street Fitzroy.
Closed March 24.

A STORY of threes weaves through this exhibition of 35 works by three talented and capable artists working their chosen mediums. All were scholarship recipients in 2015 – this is the fruit of their work while engaged in those scholarships, awarded through the Australian Print Workshop’s program of support for emerging artists. Continue reading

Why Ai Weiwei is not Andy Warhol


Andy Warhol

BY THE early 1980s, Warhol was not an artist in critical favour. The art world had moved on from the Pop Art and Minimalist sensibility of the 1960s and ’70s and was looking for new commentary on a western world that was changing rapidly. Warhol’s ‘art about nothing’ no longer reflected the spirit of the time or place – the zeitgeist – to use the noun of the moment. Robert Hughes, an art critic widely respected for his insight and critical rigour, wrote in The New York Review of Books in February 1982 that ‘…Warhol’s output for the last decade has been concerned more with the smooth development of product than with any discernible insights….  It scarcely matters what Warhol paints; for his clientele, only the signature is fully visible.’ Continue reading