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Design Icon: Kanagawa-oki nami-ura

shoutOut on 26/9/12 by travis.lyle1 in peeps

You probably don't recognise the name in phonetic Japanese, but you'll definitely recognise the image, right? Right. 'Under A Wave, Off Kanagawa' (or 神奈川沖浪裏 / Kanagawa-oki nami-ura), to give the print its full and proper name, is one of the most enduring design compositions of all time. Created by the master woodblock artist Katsushika Hokusai as the first print in the 36-print series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji (Fugaku sanjūrokkei (富嶽三十六景), this image was initially printed in 1831, and has never since stopped being printed and enjoyed by millions of art lovers across the world. 

As an example of the Japanese style of print named ukiyo-e, the 'Great Wave' as it's become known, has been printed thousands of times - both when originally released as the first print in the Thirty-six Views series, and subsequently in many unauthorised print runs. As a study in composition, its balance is found in the depth and perspective of the print - in the foreground the skiff carrying sailors is almost overwhelmed by a wave (frequently misinterpreted as a tsunami, but more likely the okinami, or 'deep-sea wave' of its title), creating a wild and beautiful scene where force and movement are fiercely shown in contrasting blue and white, whilst in the deep background Mount Fuji, the subject of the Thirty-six Views series, sits serenely distant (as it does in all the prints of the series).

As an example of the incredible skill of woodblock printing in Japan during the Edo period, the Great Wave has acted as an artistic ambassador for nearly 200 years, inspiring Western artists to develop their own block colour prints, as seen in the explosion of printwork and oriental styles which characterised La Belle Epoque. This is an interesting exchange, when considering the fact that the style of Hokusai's prints (and indeed those of his contemporary, Hiroshige) were influenced by the introduction of Western books and engravings to Japan in the early 1800's.

The results have ever since captured the imagination of art lovers the world over - in more ways than one. Nowadays you can easily buy anything from iPad covers to headphones with the famous print on it.

Little known fact #1:

In another interesting twist which not many people know about, the Great Wave was the example on which the original logo for surfwear giant Quiksilver was modelled, something easily seen when the images are compared.

Little-known fact #2:

Katsushika Hokusai used more than 30 psuedonyms during his life as an ukiyo-e artist. 


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