Riding the Great Wave

Peter and I went to the National Gallery of Victoria recently to see the Hokusai exhibition.  Even if you don't know who this is, you will be familiar with his work.  Well, perhaps one image, as it's been called the most famous image of asian art in the world.  The Great Wave (The great wave off Kanagawa) is iconic.

The exhibition is cavernous. It made me realise how much my eye is tuned to western art. I marvelled at the simplistic design of the wood block prints.  The space and stillness within some images. How simple flowing lines and a limited colour palate can create such beauty.  I must admit the human forms within many of the prints were almost grotesque. Small children looked liked monsters. I found I was drawn to the prints featuring architecture and nature.  The detail of thatched roofs, flowing waterfalls and crashing spray or the flowers and birds were divine. What astounded me was how much movement could be conveyed in a simple line. A kite flying, water rushing, or rain streaming all gave life to 2 dimensional prints.

I turned a corner and found myself face to face with two Great Waves.  One from the NGV and one from the Japan Ukiyo-e Museum.  Mounted on a black wall side by side, brightly lit their colour glowed.  I couldn't see a difference.  But I read the panel to discover soemthing about block prints. After the block is carved the first prints are the sharpest. As more prints are produced, the block repeatedly pressed, the lines change. This means you can determine where an image was produced in a print run, by comparing the lines. I went back and looked again.  I could now see that the NGV image was sharper. The colouring of the horizen was also slightly different and the sea spray more noticeable. There is a great quote from van Gogh adjacent to the prints 'These waves are claws, the boat is caught in them, you can feel it' (1888). The surge of water dragging the boats towards the crashing bow of the wave. It is both beautiful and terrifying.

I remember seeing this image in an art book I had in high school. I thought it was great them, but didn't really investigate more.  I had fallen in love with the impressionists, you see.  But this image was reintroduced to me a number of years ago.  When Peter and I met and were getting to know each other he told me a story.  Of a frog meeting a turtle. The frog explains that his home, the pond, is wonderful.  It has everything he could want or need.  The turtle takes the frog to see his home - the ocean. It's enormous size and depth, blows the frogs mind. That story came to represent my life. I was happyish in my pond...in my old relationship.  But Peter was the ocean. He made my world bigger, made me see things differently. So the great wave makes me think of my life changed.  It is terrifying at times, but that is the price you pay for the beauty.

It's been several years since he told me that story.  Reading the panel about the block prints has added an additional layer to this story.  When we were new, the wave was crisp and sharp.  Now many years on, pressure repeatedly applied, the image is the same but changed. The ocean is still beautiful, but different.  I recently re-read a post I wrote just after we got married. I mentioned that we were embryonic.  Our time together so new compared to all the years (hopefully) that lay ahead. Eight years on, the ocean is inspiring, wild, unpredictable and occassionally terrifying. But you can never go back to the pond after seeing the ocean.  No matter how the lines change over time, or how much pressure is applied. Like the fishermen in the boats, caught in the powerful surge of water, sometimes you just need to hang on and have hope.

I love you Peter.  May you always be the ocean to me.


(wave detail) 

(a homage - featuring bunnies - produced by local artists Kozyndan)



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