Katsushika Hokusai, Under the Wave off Kanagawa (Kanagawa oki nami ura), from the series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji, (c. 1830-32), Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, polychrome woodblock print, (25.7 x 37.9 cm)
Arguably, the most recognized piece of Japanese art, Under the Wave off Kanagawa by Katsushika Hokusai has permeated across all possible mediums since its creation circa 1830.
Iconic in its composition, use of Prussian Blue, and themes of nature, globalization, and impermanence, The Great Wave (how it is most commonly referenced) has been reproduced and reinterpreted an exorbitant amount of times in a wide variety of fashions. (i.e. on socks, tattoos, posters, coffee mugs, murals, etc…) The image has even been turned into an emoji:
Needless to say, the influence is tremendous and the image is inescapable. However, every time I see an image of the original, I am floored by the compositional integrity of Hokusai’s masterpiece.
The finger-like tentacles coming from the crest of the wave, the foam falling down like snowflakes on top of Mt. Fuji, the magnificent scale of the wave, the hunkered down fisherman bracing the impending crash of the wave on their boats, and the use of linear perspective and horizon line all exhibit Hokusai’s brilliance and talent.
This piece is one that stuck with me as one of the most profound pieces of Japanese artwork during my studies so it was no wonder that my eyes widened when I first laid eyes on these two works by Sozo’s featured artist, Kenny Nguyen; Waves of Impermanence, I & II.
All references or potential influence aside, these two works are visually striking and compositionally brilliant in their own right. Kenny’s use of mixed media brilliantly blends color and texture to create two pieces of art that nearly jump off of the canvas.
Looking more closely at the two paintings, Nguyen’s attention to detail paired with his vibrant color choice, result in a sound composition. (Is that Prussian Blue I see?) Kenny’s line work results in organic shapes that look like the spray of the ocean’s waves and is as precise and calculated as Hokusai’s… Each speck of paint is carefully drawn and filled looking simultaneously serendipitous yet perfectly placed.
Like Hokusai’s Wave, each piece looks as though it is a snapshot from a moment in time. The texture from the acrylic paint on top of an ombre background creates movement that draws the eye around the canvas in a spiral-like manner alluding to the familiar motion of a wave.
Placed side by side, the movement in Waves I appears to transfer across the void and into Waves II. The continuous movement from I to II alludes to the crest and subsequent crashing of a wave. What motion begins in Waves I, is carried to fruition in Waves II.
Waves of Impermanence I and II are the work of a truly learned and talented artist. Striking on their own accord and, intentional or not, a beautiful homage to Hokusai.
Sara Frances Koontz
Kenny Nguyen’s exhibition, Interbeing, is on display at Sozo Gallery until January 31.