A Day Out with Hokusai

Today’s bookshop spot is brought to you courtesy of the British Museum; as it turned out, on the hottest June day for several decades the air-conditioned sanctuary of the museum’s Hokusai exhibition was definitely the most comfortable place to be!  Like most people, I’m familiar with his most famous work, “The Great Wave”, which you see adorning everything from cards to calendars, but this was a fascinating opportunity to see other, very different, works that are not usually on general view, at least not in the UK.  The striking, soulful illustrations ranged from exquisite paintings on six-foot scrolls depicting figures from folklore and mythology, to clean, clear vistas in stunning blues and greens featuring rivers, waterfalls and of course the imposing Mount Fuji.  I had no idea of the breadth of his work – there were even designs for ridiculously ornate combs and tobacco pipes intended as practical blueprints for master craftsmen.  Nor did I know that Hokusai wasn’t actually his real name, but one of the numerous names he chose for himself during his life to mirror the different periods of his artistic career.

Naturally, the trip ended with an obligatory walk through the exhibition gift shop!  It’s always tempting to part with money on these occasions for memorabilia you don’t by any stretch of the imagination need (I have more mugs from plays, concerts and galleries than you can shake a stick at) but I was of course drawn in by the books.  This was the one I really wanted,

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the official exhibition book, which had pretty much everything we’d seen on the day and was as comprehensive a guide to the artist as I think I’d ever need.  Sadly though, like many of these exhibition tie-ins the price tag was just too much for me to justify.  It was beautifully produced to be sure, but sadly I’m sure that lots of people like me who’ve paid entry and a fairly hefty train fare to get there as well aren’t able to buy the book on top of all that as a memento.  To be fair, there were a few slightly cheaper options on sale that I didn’t like quite so much, but it’s certainly prompted me to do a bit of digging and see if I can track down a comprehensive Hokusai book that’s more within my budget.  I do own some art books that I almost never look at, but with a Hokusai book I believe I would, as there’s something so calming about so many of his images, and often the more you look at them the more detail and technique you start to see.

The exhibition’s on for a few weeks yet I think, so if you live anywhere near London I’d highly recommend it!

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