daily preciousness

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Hokusai + 11

You know Katsushika Hokusai (葛飾北斎). Or, at the very least, you know his work. No -- really!

The Japanese master of brush and block had a career that spanned seventy years. He influenced not only Japan with his revolutionary vision and mad skillz, but the entire world (yo!). His idea to create "random pictures," or as he called them "manga" forever changed Japanese art.

(Yes, today Manga means Japanese comic book or graphic novel art, and it was Tezuka Osamu (手塚 治虫) who popularized the modern form. But Hokusai was kicking it old school back in big bad Edo Period (1603-1867). Let's just put it this way: If Osamu is the "father of manga," it is Hokusai who is the grandfather.

Okay. Enough history. Let's get to the art. Visted the ">Freer/Sackler Galleries today to see one of Hokusai's most famous works. It's called "In the Hollow of a Wave off the Coast of Kanagawa" from "Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji." In the U.S. it's most commonly referred to as "That Japanese print with the big honkin' wave." Know what I'm talking about?

In it, a dramatic, white-capped wave arches precipitously in the foreground, tossing a tiny fishing boat about. Frosty white foam and Prussian blue dominate the lower half of the seascape. The upper portion is all earthy grays and gentle pastels. In the background, Mount Fuji adds a stately calm element.

It's all beneath a pink and clouded sky. At 10 by 15 inches, it is not a large work, but it is powerful and iconic.

I was standing there, just admiring it, when a handsome 20-something walked up beside me. He had a quick smile, a tight t-shirt and a friendly manner. "OMG - he is SO Bel Ami," I remember thinking.

Pyoter told me that Hokusai is an early example of an artist using fractals in his art. "My math instructor in university mentioned him in class," he explained, intelligent brown eyes sparkling. The muscular young Pole elaborated, explaining how the main curve of the wave was echoed at its very edges. He was right. The waves were trimmed with tiny finger-like extensions, each one a miniature reproduction of the larger form. Like the fractal shapes of tree branches or lightening strikes. "Mathematics is the language of nature," I offered, quoting a favorite BT track. Pyoter flashes a quick smile of agreement.

His comment reminded me of a line from Ken "I'm hot *and* a famous philosopher" Wilber's book, A Brief History of Everything, in which he writes, "Reality as a whole is not composed of things or processes, but of the holons (wholes that are parts of other wholes." So true.

"So you're obviously a scientist, then?" I asked Pyoter. I was right. A 23-year old first time traveler to the U.S. from some place in Poland that sounded like "Crack Whore." Unfortunate name, that. He comes from a very old family there, one of his relatives was even mentioned by famous Polish author Henryk Scienkiewicz. Talk about six degrees of separation! "More like eleven," he countered. Touché.
At this point, I have to pause during my writing. I'm sitting in the National Gallery's 'Neath the Fountain Café and I just saw Saddam Hussein's body double walk by. He was a dapper man, kind of run down after his long day at trial. His female companion was humming a tune and seemed rather happy. I wonder if he checked out the Dada exhibit.

Quite right you are, Pyoter. Eleven degrees of separation. Between you and me. Between Saddam Hussein and his body double. Between us all. And there it pops up again. Eleven.

Some highlights of my latest elevens:

11 yellow footholds I used during my first 30-foot climb up the indoor climbing wall at SportRock.

11 drink choices available for our upcoming cherry blossom~tini crawl.

11 members in Brian's Long Island ice tea social club.

11 pianos at the mechanical symphony that I heard play earlier today at the National Gallery (controlled on a Mac MIDI computer).

11 times my grandmother repeats a comment before I get a little sick of it. 'Cause Alzheimer's is a real bitch and life's unfair.

11 servings per container of my breakfast of Irish oatmeal this morning. Yum. Almost better than cattle feed. Without the mad cow disease.

11 times that I've viewed my favorite podcast: "yoga for energy."

11 minutes after I have said goodbye to Pyoter, I realize that he probably wanted to go clubbing in DC, but I forgot to ask and now he'll think that I'm lacking in hospitality. (Real smart one, there, Jblend!!)

Okay. So I didn't get to buy him a drink. But I got to have a great little conversation with him. And the Hokusai ruled today. It was worth the entire day just to see his beautiful prints on a quiet museum outing.

W00t for Hokusai, Baby!


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