Hokusai’s Whole Earth Catalogue
Both an artist and a teacher, Katsushika Hokusai published in 1814 the first volume of a series of art handbooks entitled Hokusai Manga, a collection of sketches of animals, people, objects… covering “all things in the universe”. Initially produced as reference books for art students, fifteen volumes in total were released over 64 years, some of them posthumously. The books got an enormous public success, going far beyond their initial pedagogic aim. A box of three volumes was recently reprinted by the japanese publisher Seigensha.
Originally block-printed in three colours (black sumi, light black sumi, and light vermilion), the book was published during Edo’s period, during which book publishing became an important commerce in Japan. Edo was also the period during which the tradition of manga, meaning drawn pictures, was born and became very important in Japan’s popular culture. Manga became also very successful in the Western world, exported by collectors, and later evolving into the narrative form we know today worldwide as japanese comic-books.
The 970 pages of Hokusai Manga contain more than 4000 drawings, representing landscapes, plants, animals, human figures, objects of the daily life and supernatural scenes.
Hokusai Manga resembles a visual encyclopedia. It is an inventory of objects and figures ordered by theme, arranged in compositions, plates, situations and small narrative structures. The book also uses interesting compositions forming narratives: pannels, etc.
Volume two of Seigensha’s Hokusai Manga box is subtitled The Whole Earth Catalogue. This name that resonates with the 1970s eponym project by Stewart Brand that recently regained interest from the art scene.
Work in progress, version 0.1, 13 September 2015.