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An interview with Tim Clark the Curator of Hokusai: beyond the Great wave at the British Museum

Date: 2017 May 23 15:08

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The British Museum will be hosting a Hokusai Exhibition from Thursday 25th May until Sunday 13th August 2017.

Dedicated to the Japanese master the exhibition entitled Hokusai: beyond the Great wave will feature two magnificent painted ceiling panels of wave subjects loaned by Hokusaikan, Obuse, done in 1845 for a festival cart, along with many other fabulous bits of artwork.

Naturally being fans of Japan we know you're eager to find out more about this. So we go in touch with Tim Clark the exhibition's curator.

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Why do you think now is a good time for a Hokusai Exhibition?

The exhibition results from a close curatorial collaboration with Dr Shūgō Asano, leading Hokusai scholar and Director of the Abeno Harukas Art Museum, Osaka, where a similar exhibition will be shown from 6 October – 19 November 2017.

Were you surprised to source any of his work in particular?
Many of the works are in the UK for the first time. This includes two magnificent painted ceiling panels of wave subjects loaned by Kanmachi Neighbourhood Council, Obuse, done by Hokusai in 1845, when he was eighty-six, for a festival cart in that town.

Are there any prints that are particularly rare?

Hokusai: beyond the Great Wave

The British Museum’s impression of ‘The Great Wave’ is a fresh early one, with sharply printed lines and well-fitting colours. On present evidence it is likely that this is one of the top twenty impressions to have survived. The clever composition epitomises Hokusai’s wit and ingenuity as an artist, in addition to the sheer graphic power of the image.

Are there any prints that aren't that well known?

Many of the works have not been shown in the UK before, so they might be new to UK audiences.

Was it difficult to source any of the artwork for this exhibit? Even with the resources and creditability of the British Museum?

We are incredibly fortunate to have 32 lenders contribute to the exhibition and 21 of them are in Japan. We are delighted to have so many institutions involved with the show.

Are all the prints early editions? Or are some later runs?

Hokusai: beyond the Great Wave

All of the prints are from the original printings issued during Hokusai’s lifetime. And wherever possible we are showing fresh early impressions with good colour and in good condition.

Which of Hokusai’s personal beliefs did you discover when researching this exhibit? Will people be surprised by any of them?

Hokusai believed that the older he got, the greater he would become as an artist. Our exhibition agrees with that assessment. To quote Hokusai: "From the age of six I had a penchant for copying the form of things, and from about 50, my pictures were frequently published; but until the age of 70, nothing I drew was worthy of notice. At 73 years, I was somewhat able to fathom the growth of plant and trees, and the structure of birds, animals, insects and fish. Thus when I reach 80 years, I hope to have made increasing progress, and at 90 to see further into the underlying principles of things, so that at 100 years I will have achieved a divine state in my art, and at 110, every dot and every stroke will be as though alive. Those of you who live long enough, bear witness that these words of mine are not false’ (translated by Henry D Smith II). He lived until 90.

Do you think the people will be surprised by Hokusai's rendition of Yokai (Japanese monsters from folklore)?

In about 1833, Hokusai began a print series ‘One Hundred Ghost Tales’ for the publisher Tsuruya Kiemon. Even though only five designs were issued, they are graphically incredibly powerful, as well as being both creepy and slightly comic -- in a way that surely anticipates modern manga on supernatural subjects.

Are there any favourites?

Hokusai: beyond the Great Wave

Personal favourites from the exhibition include: a wonderfully macabre print of a skeleton pulling down a mosquito net at night (‘Kohada Koheiji’, from the series One Hundred Ghost Tales); and a pair of mesmerizing paintings Tiger in rain and Dragon in rain clouds done in the last few months of Hokusai’s life, when he was ninety. The pair of paintings is being reunited for the first three weeks of the exhibition from, respectively, the Ōta Memorial Museum of Art in Tokyo and the Musée Guimet in Paris.

Do you think there will be any bits of art that would fascinate a manga fan?

Hokusai is considered one of the most significant fathers of modern manga and some of his printed volumes of Hokusai’s sketches (Hokusai manga) will be on show.

The Great Wave is one of the most famous images to come out of Japan. Why do you think it captures people's imagination?

Hokusai: beyond the Great Wave

‘The Great Wave’ is the most recognisable in the West, but in Japan Hokusai’s most iconic work is ‘Red Fuji.’ Mt Fuji was an object of religious devotion during the Edo period. Fuji took centre stage in his series, Thirty-Six Views of Mt Fuji, which Hokusai created when he was about seventy. ‘The Great Wave’ is part of this series.


We'd like to thank Tim Clark and everyone at the British Museum for helping us arrange this interview.

If you can't get to the exhibition you can always get the accompanying book - Hokusai: beyond the Great Wave edited by Timothy Clark, with essays by Timothy Clark, Angus Lockyer, Ryōko Matsuba, Shūgō Asano and Alfred Haft and a preface by Roger Keyes, will be published by Thames & Hudson, £35.
You can order the book from or

Hokusai: beyond the Great Wave
25 May – 13 August 2017
Room 35
British Museum
Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3DG
Closed 3-6 July 2017

Supported by Mitsubishi Corporation

Tickets £12.00, children under 16 free
Group rates available
Booking fees apply online and by phone
+44 (0)20 7323 8181

Opening times
Saturday – Thursday 10.00–17.30
Friday 10.00–20.30
Last entry 80 minutes before closing time

Source: Otaku News
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