Made for Armani / Casa

Hokusai’s Great Wave: nature, people, spirit


3 December 2019

What is the legacy of Hokusai’s Great Wave off Kanagawa and why does it fascinate designers and artists today?

On 24 October, Disegno hosted a talk exploring the lasting legacy of Katsushika Hokusai’s (1760-1849) 19th-century woodblock print The Great Wave off Kanagawa. Hosted at the Armani / Casa showroom, the evening was led by Tim Clark, head of the Japanese section at the British Museum.

The event was held to celebrate the recent Armani / Casa collection, which takes inspiration from the print and myriad aspects of Japan’s craft traditions. The talk, titled ‘Hokusai’s Great Wave, nature, people, spirit’, explored the techniques used to produce the print, the various versions of the Great Wave design, and its global reception.

Popularly known as the Great Wave, the original colour woodblock print was known as Under the Wave off Kanagawa, and was created by Hokusai when he was in his early seventies.

Central to the talk was an exploration of Hokusai’s ongoing fascination with age and craftsmanship. Clark highlighted a passage written by Hokusai in the 1830s in which the artist explains: “At seventy-three years, I was somewhat able to fathom the growth of plants and trees, and the structure of birds, animals, insects and fish. Thus when I reach eighty years, I hope to have made increasing progress, and at ninety to see further into the underlying principles of things, so that at one hundred years I will have achieved a divine state in my art, and at one hundred and ten, every dot and every stroke will be as though alive.” Hokusai died aged 88.

Hokusai’s Great Wave has continued with a life of its own in popular culture, from the salons of early 20th-century Paris, to political satire to contemporary art – a usage that Clark argued would have been wholly welcomed by the artist.

Japanese aesthetics have long held a fascination for Giorgio Armani and were central to these recent works, including Armani / Casa's Club Bar Cabinet, directly inspired by The Great Wave. This drinks cabinet features an oceanic spray veneer of high gloss lacquer in blues, greens and warm golds referencing the palette of the original print.