Kuan and Hokusai: The Relationship Between Humanity and Nature
Around 1000 CE, Fan Kuan created ‘Travelers Among Mountains and Streams’ with ink on silk. It is representing a relationship between humans and the natural world, primarily the respect that humans have or should have for mountains, the landscapes, and nature in general. Similarly, Katsukhika Hokusai’s ‘Under the Wave of …
Around 1000 CE, Fan Kuan created ‘Travelers Among Mountains and Streams’ with ink on silk. It is representing a relationship between humans and the natural world, primarily the respect that humans have or should have for mountains, the landscapes, and nature in general. Similarly, Katsukhika Hokusai’s ‘Under the Wave of Kanagawa’ from his series, ’36 Views of Mount Fuji,’ also depicts this respectful and awe-inspiring dynamic between humans and the natural world. It was a woodblock print created circa 1830 CE, reproduced with ink on paper.
These two pieces depict large mountains, which are sacred in both Chinese and Japanese culture. To accentuate their size and majesty, there are other objects in these pieces to compare to: ‘Travelers Among Mountains and Streams’ is almost entirely dominated by mountains, but in the bottom right-hand corner, you can see just the smallest outlines of animals (perhaps horses or some other beast of burden).
In the same manor, ‘Under the Wave of Kanagawa’ features Mount Fuji, who in Japanese is respectfully referred to as “Fuji-san” or “Mr. Fuji.” Mount Fuji is held in very high regard as one of largest mountains in the world. However, while the mountains are the focal point in Kuan’s work, Mount Fuji is not the focus of ‘Under the Wave of Kanagawa’—-despite its great size, it appears dwarfed as the giant wave looks like it’s about to crash over the mountain as well as some fishing boats. By having other objects in their pieces as a point of reference for scale, the artists are able to better convey the sheer size and power of nature and why we as humans should respect it.
To continue, Fan Kuan and Katsuhika Hokusai have some differences in how they chose to convey their message. Fan Kuan used black ink on silk, masterfully painting a gorgeous landscape with no other colors. The Chinese believed that natural landscapes could shape one’s mind and character, and mountains were seen as places where immortals would dwell. It is a serious piece whose brilliant technique and details speak for themselves. On the other hand, Katsuhika Hokusai’s work is a lot more colorful and playful. The colors are more segmented since it was a woodblock print, and it is highly stylized with the ocean spray and details on the waves.
In brief, both Fan Kuan’s ‘Travelers Among Mountains and Streams’ and Katsuhika Hokusai’s ‘Under the Wave of Kanagawa’ present the viewer with the intimate relationship that people have with the natural world. These artists epitomize the values of their cultures in their work, that nature should be respected and held in the highest regard. Whether it’s a meticulous, jaw-dropping landscape or a creative and colorful woodblock print, both of these pieces convey how hauntingly beautiful nature can be.
All Images © 2021 Fan Kuan & Katsuhika Hokusai