Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849)
“From the age of 6 I had a mania for drawing the shapes of things. When I was 50 I had published a universe of designs. But all I have done before the the age of 70 is not worth bothering with. At 75 I’ll have learned something of the pattern of nature, of animals, of plants, of trees, birds, fish and insects. When I am 80 you will see real progress. At 90 I shall have cut my way deeply into the mystery of life itself. At 100, I shall be a marvelous artist. At 110, everything I create; a dot, a line, will jump to life as never before. To all of you who are going to live as long as I do, I promise to keep my word. I am writing this in my old age. I used to call myself Hokusai, but today I sign my self ‘The Old Man Mad About Drawing.”
Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849)
When I was in my early teens, we were living in Tokyo and my Mum was a member of CWAJ. Christian Women's Association of Japan - it wasn't a religious group, from memory, it was more about women empowering women through cultural exchange and events. The members were about half expats and half Japanese nationals. One of their main things was that each year at The American Club, near Ropppongi, they would hold a wonderful exhibition of the new works of contemporary Japanese print makers. This would include silkscreens, etchings, lithographs and woodblocks.
There would always be a couple of hundred awesome artworks to purview. The first year, my brothers and I were dragged along kicking and screaming, but we quickly came to enjoy the range and invention of the works. Well, I did, for sure.
There was also, always, a full colour catalogue that had every print included. I would often pour over it at leisure, studying my favourite works. At that stage, I had no idea that I would go on to do three years of art school and become an artist but did know that I liked art.
Woodblock is the most traditionally Japanese of the printmaking forms. My Mum actually studied it for quite a number of years with some top notch Japanese tutors. Over the years she became very proficient and created some wonderful and popular woodblock series of her own. (Good on you, Mum!)
It's quite a labour intensive process. Each colour within a print is carved from a separate block of wood with special tools. Some prints will have eight, ten or more blocks. Then the printing involves the application of the ink, the lining up of the pre-prepared special paper and the rubbing of the paper so that the ink penetrates. It's a delicate and technical process - enjoyable to watch. (Once.)
Over the years, my parents collected many dynamic prints from the CWAJ shows and also from small galleries. I also witnessed things like the choosing of frames, decisions on where to hang them, etc. I did not know it at the time but these things surely influenced and enriched my art head space. Tokyo is tight on space and homes are smaller scale, so prints were generally much more prevalent than paintings. In fact, I recall coming back to Australia to live at seventeen and noticing paintings in homes and being intrigued and enraptured by them.
My uncle Dick, I now recall, a wealthy man, had one of the country's pre-eminent private collections of Australian art. He even had a granny flat full of them and would take us on a tour with animated and learned commentary included. He had originals by Dobell, Whitely, Nolan, Boyd, Crooke, Drysdale and Klippel as well as many others. Visiting him was an art lesson in itself. Funnily, even them, after doing the tours more than a few times in my teens, I never considered that I may one day myself become a painter.
It really wasn't until I had dropped out of Sydney Uni, first year, and returned to Japan to see my family that it even became a possibility. I was eighteen. Uni was not for me. I was doing a BA, studying Literature, Computer Science (!!!)(it was 1979), Japanese and Psychology. These were all areas of interest but I simply found the format of education too dry and personality lacking. A large lecture hall with one guy telling everyone what to think. Boring! More than I could bear, in fact. I quickly began cutting classes and going to the movies. Then later, visiting a sweet girlfriend. Two areas I was much more naturally passionate about. And that taught me much better.
So, I was back in Tokyo to see my family. It was the day before I was due to head back to Australia. My parents convened a meeting at the Okura Hotel. We sat in the lobby. The point of discussion was 'what was I going to do?' I was drawing a blank. The only thing I knew for sure was that I didn't want to return to University. Time ticked. There was some tension. Off the cuff, my Mum said, 'What about art school..? You've always liked art...."
Ping! What? Art school? They have those? That is an option? I seriously did not even know. But now that I heard it, it was like... er, yeah! Next day I was on a plane back to Sydney.
I looked up Art School in the Yellow Pages. The closest one was East Sydney Tech in Randwick. I turned up holding a portfolio of portraits I had done with a biro, mostly copied from comics. The year had started a few days earlier. The selection process was completed months before. And yet, somehow..... I got to show my portfolio to the head of school. Theo. He liked it. Someone had dropped out that morning. Theo shrugged. "You're in group B. Next door. Start now." I was in. It was truly something that was meant to be. So random. So spontaneous. So glorious! I loved it. Three years. A double major in painting and photography. Many, many wonderful classes and experiences. I was on my way....
ART GETS ME HIGH
Author & Artist