Hokusai: Beyond The Great Wave at The British Museum

At 75 Katsushika Hokusai changed his name to Gakyo Rojin which meant 'old man crazy to paint.' Having renamed him self more than 30 times during his life it wasn't an unexpected move rather one that showed a wry sense of humour and a steely determination. The paintings in the Hokusai show at The British Museum carry many of his pseudonyms and always the age at which he painted them. Hokusai lived during the mid 1800s in Edo, now Tokyo and had an unwavering and hugely inspiring determination to continue to work and improve his craft until his death in 1849. It was during his 70's that Hokusai produced The Great Wave, one of the most recognised images of all time. A phenomenal self publicist and clearly not averse to repetition if it made money Hokusai produced over 8000 prints of The Great Wave, one of which could be bought at the time for little more than a double helping of noodles!

Under The Wave off Kanagawa ('The Great Wave') from the series Thirty Siz Views of Mt Fuji, 1831

Under The Wave off Kanagawa ('The Great Wave') from the series Thirty Siz Views of Mt Fuji, 1831

The British museum first purchased a work by the artist in 1860. Japan, through its isolationist policies, had been closed to trade and travel between 1639 and 1854 and this was the beginning of the use of ‘Japonisme’ as decoration by Western craftsmen and artists. The influx of ideas also worked the other way, inspiring Japanese artists. In the early 1800’s Prussian blue found its way to Osaka, Japan and was marketed as ‘bero’. This pigment revolutionised the palette of Hokusai’s work. It was darker and more vivid than the traditional and lighter indigo blue and Hokusai was one of the first of his craft to use this vivid blue in his work. Japanese prints were shown in Paris at the end of the 1860’s and had a profound effect on the work of the impressionists. Vincent Van Gogh wrote in 1888 'all my work is based to some extent on Japanese art.' 

It worked the other way too. The opening up of the outside world also excited Hokusai.  Two paintings in the show depict Japanese life on noticeably thicker paper. Officers from The Dutch East India Company (the VOC) had provided this thicker paper and commissioned Hokusai to paint Japanese life, previously a subject unexplored. These commissions revolutionised Hokusai's work and my favourite painting in the show is ‘Ejiri, Suruga Province’ from the series Thirty-six Views of Mt Fuji, 1831. It depicts people walking in high wind along the main road towards Mt Fuji , paper and debris is blown into the air and the people desperately hold their heads to stop them disappearing into the Fields on either side. This way of painting every day life had been completely unexplored in Japan and Hokusai’s work caused a stir.

Ejiri, Suruga Province, from the series Thirty-six Views of Mt Fuji, 1831

Ejiri, Suruga Province, from the series Thirty-six Views of Mt Fuji, 1831

Its true that he worked incredibly hard throughout his life and, though successful, never lived in grand style or slowed pace. He moved house over 90 times in his life to various humble dwellings around Edo (Tokyo) and though good at self promotion he seems to have been realistic and self effacing about his work. Aged 83 in 1842 he wrote to his dealer a letter that included a drawing of himself. It included a package including drawings from his early 40s. Perhaps, he suggested, they might be usable even though they ‘were created by an immature artist’. I was lucky enough to view the show before the British Museum opened two days ago (wonderful and rather spooky to see it so empty). I met Tim Clark who produced the show and we discussed Hokusai’s work ethic. [He was] 'not thinking about death, always thinking about life, retirement was not an option!' Clark notes with a wry smile before hurrying off into the depths of the museum that had begun to fill up as people streamed in to see the show.

Empty British Museum at 8am!

Empty British Museum at 8am!

 

The show is on until the 13th August

Written by Beatrice Hasell-McCosh

Revive! at St Mary Magdalene Church, Rowington Close

The really lovely thing about having art shows in unusual places are the perks that come attached to these spaces. Galitzine Mackenzie’s latest show, Revive! has just finished at the Crypt of St Mary Magdalene in Little Venice and when I visited late on a Sunday in December it was to the glorious accompaniment of carols from above, a choir practising for their carol concert that evening. Like the relationships developed with the community via previous shows in the allotments in Highgate and the houseboat dwellers on Regents Canal, this is another exhibition which has community central to its game plan. Not only is St Mary Magdalene a practising church, rare when so many are being amalgamated or developed, this is a place which is fully committed to the arts, so much that the crypt is soon to be made into an multicultural arts centre serving the local community thanks to a £3.6 million Heritage Lottery grant.

I met Carolyn Barker-Mill, who has her studio in one part of the crypt a few months ago when Sasha and Olga staged the first part of the show Pompe, a procession along Regents canal, ending at the church for a series of performance pieces. Carolyn’s work MM was produced whilst working with renowned stained glass craftsman Thomas Denny. It’s based on identity of Mary Magdalene whom the church is dedicated to and also plays on the the feminine image and identity of celebrity culture using Marilyn Monroe as another icon with the same initials.

MM by Carolyn Barker-Mill

MM by Carolyn Barker-Mill

Adam Barker-Mill produced the most instagramable piece of art so far in the Galitzine Mackenzie cannon. His splendid work Glowb inspires unthinking captivated concentration from its audience, delighted by its peaceful light. This contemporary work sits in front of the staggeringly beautiful original alter, gilded and gleaming, which contains several versions of Mary Magdalene. Mary of Eygpt and 'The Ultimate Sinner' are among these. Allegedly Pope Gregory The Great fused many significant Mary’s in Jesus' life together to create one Mary Magdalene hence the many myths surrounding her. This was perhaps an attempt to belittle the presence of significant women in Jesus' life. Lucinda May’s piece is a reinterpretation of the plainsong notation still visible on the walls of Ninian Comper’s Chantry Chapel dedicated to Mary Magdalene. Lift was recorded in the crypt and is an appropriation of the chant, usually performed by men. Haunting and celebratory of the role of women, especially in relation to Jesus, this recalls the subtle autonomy of the Sisters and the origins of the church as a refuge for prostitutes and single mothers.

Glowb by Adam Barker-Mill

Glowb by Adam Barker-Mill

A total highlight was Hans Rosenstrom’s work. He produced the perfectly sight specific work Some Bodies Language. Sitting in a chair with headphones on I was almost alone in the crypt. Unexpected footsteps, rustles and breathing enveloped me. I felt claustrophobic which was heightened by a light pointing towards me, gradually getting brighter so my vision was almost blacked out. I believe in ghosts, having been brought up in an old house in the Lake District. This artwork reminded me of stories I heard as I grew up. The thing about ghosts though is that you can have both good or bad presences. The ones that people have told me about in our house seem to be basically good; steadying invisible hands holding ladders, a man in a brown suit who walks down stairs and disappears into a room with no other exit and a woman who presides over the garden who fits the description of my grandmother who died the year after I was born. This woman was described in court to my father who had to identify a statue some thieves being cross-examined had stolen. Some Bodies Language is a positive ghostly presence, bringing the viewer into the work as audience and participator. It is an embodiment of the church, a place which itself plays with the idea of space and time. The clever thing about the work was that it had been recorded and played back from the same place that the listener sits in. The sense of movement around the listener and involvement with the space embodies the churches values and beliefs of God as all omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent.

The Church already plays an important part in the community. Next week children from The Mary Magdalene Primary School will be making paintings based on those of Jonathan McCree whose work is attached to the floor. This discomposing form of presentation forces the viewer to walk with care across artwork that would normally be presented on the wall of a gallery.  McCree’s work is a playful exploration of the physical relationship between artwork and audience and scrutinizes the original use of the crypt as a space to store bodies before burial.

Jonathan McCree

Jonathan McCree

To stage an exhibition in such a beautiful space is testament to imagination. This is perhaps a naïve word but one appropriate to this show staged in such a beautiful surrounding. The gilded alter and intricate stars on the ceiling of the chantry are juxtaposed with the rest of the large crypt which is undecorated yet still haunting in its scale and architecture. The whole space is concealed from the street by an unremarkable staircase, a metaphor perhaps for the Galitzine Mackenzie manifesto, revealing beauty in everyday places through these accessible and extraordinary productions.

Artists involved in Revive! Lucinda May, STASIS, Carolyn Barker-Mill, Pavel Pepperstein, Jonathan McCree, Hans Rosenstrom, Alan Magee, Col Self, Adam Braker-Mill, Niklas Gustafson

Curated by Galiztine Mackenzie

www.galitzinemackenzie.com

Written by Beatrice Hasell-McCosh