Hokusai at the Honolulu Academy of Arts

24 09 2009
Honolulu Academy of Arts

Honolulu Academy of Arts

It felt like all of Honolulu came to see the 36-plus views of Mount Fuji at the Honolulu Academy of Arts last night. More than 900 people stood in line to enter the opening of “Hokusai’s Summit: Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji” at our city’s art museum.

I skipped my tai chi class to meet my friend Becky at the corner of Victoria and Beretania, and at 7 o’clock the line extended around the block. Neither of us had eaten dinner, but it was so crowded that we opted to bypass the refreshments and headed for the gallery.


This special exhibition that will extend for several months from now and into 2010 offers the opportunity to study the work of Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849), who lived during the Edo period when a new art called ukiyo-e emerged. It is believed that he made 30,000 works of art and published more than 270 books. His life was dedicated to drawing.

The Honolulu Academy of Arts is known for its fine Asian collection, within which there are more than 10,000 Japanese woodblock prints. The collection includes a rare complete set of the famous Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji series by Hokusai. This is what the Academy of Arts has put on public display.

The exhibit is rounded out by items about the woodblock printing process, about Hokusai’s stylistic development, of Mount Fuji by the artist Hiroshige, and of Mount Fuji by other painters. Reading the “Visitors’ Guide” handout and the labels next to each piece of art when I have more time will give me a working knowledge of the subject for sure.

What impressed me last night was how woodblock printing lends itself to simplicity and a limited color ink palette, something I can try in my own work. Hokusai was so skilled in drawing, he could incorporate the detail of human activity that I found delightful and often amusing. And, of course, it was fun to see all the different treatments of Mount Fuji.

I also was very impressed by the turnout! In the crowd I bumped into my high school journalism teacher, former work associates, other artists and writers, my cousin, “the ants” (like ants at a picnic), and many whose faces I’ve seen around town but couldn’t place because of the different venue. When Becky and I were tired of rubbing shoulders, literally, we decided it was refreshment time: sake-tasting, fruity punch, cubed cheddar, cubed pepper jack, lavosh, and sweet gingery senbei crackers. Becky, who is a member of the Academy of Arts, said there are three or four major exhibitions a year and that the openings are popular events. You can say that again. Long live the arts!

Copyright 2009 Rebekah Luke



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