Hokusai: original mangaka

The sketchbooks of 18th century artist Katsushika Hokusai are packed with humour, charm and glimpses of everyday life. Pie Books in Japan has just published them as a beautiful collected edition

The sketchbooks of 18th century artist Katsushika Hokusai are packed with humour, charm and glimpses of everyday life. Pie Books in Japan has just published them as a beautiful collected edition…

Shunro, Taito, and, later in life, Gakyo Rojin or ‘Old man mad about painting’: Japanese artist and illustrator Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) went by several pseudonyms.

But the Hokusai moniker by which he’s best known was adopted when he was 38 and used for the next 18 years. In showcasing the pick of his ‘manga’ sketches in a new 700-page edition, Pie has revealed a man who was certainly crazy for his art.

Hokusai drew anything and everything but his cartoons of human figures, sketched in just a few bold lines, convey character, expression and movement in a way that we can still relate to. Some of them look like they are straight out of contemporary manga. Just look at the sketches of hands (above) – the one on the right seems to depict someone deterring an unwanted grope.

Hokusai’s take on ‘Ukiyo-e’ woodblock printing depicts ordinary folk and the houses they lived in, tackles proverbs and the Japanese landscape (his most famous and most recognisable series of works is probably Mount Fuji in 36 views).

With Hokusai Manga, Pie has produced a wonderful book that includes a brief but astute commentary on a man whose work proved to be an influence on Art Nouveau but, in his own time, captured the breadth and character of everyday life in Japan.

Pie Books; £35. More details at piebooks.com.

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