Artist
Katsushika Hokusai
Japanese artist

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Katsushika Hokusai
Japanese artist

Birth Date

~ October 1760

Death Date

May 10, 1849

Contributor

A mysterious fellow, indeed. Not a whole lot is known about Katsushika Hokusai.

Perhaps we had some trouble documenting this enigmatic character because he changed his name over thirty times. We're not sure if his father didn’t think too highly of him or if he was embarrassed that his momma was a concubine, but either way, he did not appoint his son heir to his legacy (which is common in Japanese culture).

Maybe it was daddy issues that resulted in his aggressive personality. Hokusai is commonly described as cocky, quarrelsome and relentless. He often picked fights while in art school and got sent home from class due to disruptive behavior. After several years of this hooliganism, when he was 12, his father made him start work in a library. So much for child labor laws. It was at this point he began to read books that utilized woodblock printing to produce images. He found the spark that ignited his artistic career! Thanks, Dad.

While Hokusai is best known for his beautiful renderings of Japanese landscapes, he also had a passion for the more risqué side of Japanese art. He produced shunga, which is a type of erotic Japanese imagery. Ancient porn, basically. Perhaps fantasizing through this sexy art was a way to cope with his lady issues. Hokusai married twice and both wives died shortly after their union. Strange coincidence if you ask me…

Nonetheless, Hokusai is one of the most famous Japanese artists in the West. Hokusai lived during the Edo period of Japanese history. During this time, Japan had sealed itself off from the rest of the world and contact with the Western culture was trifling. But at a young age, Hokusai procured some European copper plate engravings, which subsequently revolutionized his approach to Japanese woodblock printing. It was rare for Japanese artists of his time to be influenced by European art, so maybe that's why his aesthetic vibes so well with the Western world. 

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Here is what Wikipedia says about Hokusai

Katsushika Hokusai (葛飾 北斎, About this soundlisten , c. October 31, 1760 – May 10, 1849) was a Japanese artist, ukiyo-e painter and printmaker of the Edo period. Born in Edo (now Tokyo), Hokusai is best known as author of the woodblock print series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji (富嶽三十六景, Fugaku Sanjūroku-kei, c. 1831) which includes the internationally iconic print, The Great Wave off Kanagawa.

Hokusai created the Thirty-Six Views both as a response to a domestic travel boom and as part of a personal obsession with Mount Fuji. It was this series, specifically The Great Wave print and Fine Wind, Clear Morning, that secured Hokusai’s fame both in Japan and overseas. As historian Richard Lane concludes, "Indeed, if there is one work that made Hokusai's name, both in Japan and abroad, it must be this monumental print-series". While Hokusai's work prior to this series is certainly important, it was not until this series that he gained broad recognition.

Check out the full Wikipedia article about Hokusai.