Hokusai and Warhol
I wrote this text in a director of art history department, Prof. Diana Gisolfi's
class, " History of print and drawing " on May 1995. The assigment
was to compare an old master artist with a modern artist or their works.
Data : Warhol / Hokusai
When I was watching Hokusai 's Fuji 36 views at his exhibition in Tokyo.
I felt those works are very similar to something. Symbol, Repetition. Hokusai's
Fuji 36 views are similar to Andy's Monroe series. And then, I thought two
classrooms that a young Japanese social philosophor was talking in order
to explain premodern and modern.
There are two classrooms. Students are studying independently in both classes.
In the first class, a teacher is standing in front of students and watching
them strictly. In the second class, a teacher is or might be standing behind
The first class seems to be a strict enviroment for students. But, if they
are familiar with the class. They can find secret pathes like drawing on
the desk behind a textbook or talking friends with small voice. If a teacher
lose attention, they can play a dashing trick. Bad guys are enjoying around
the back of the classroom. And, during break, if a teacher leave, everybody
will start to play very lively.
How about the second class ? It seems to be much feer than the first class.
Even though students sometimes take break and talk with friends, a teacher's
strict voice never come from behind. Students are permitted to play or take
break in some extend. But, if students' paly escalate, they will start to
take care behind. But, they are never permitted to look behind. They can
not make sure that a teacher is there or not. And, a teacher's absence view
is getting into students' mind. The second classroom is changing into the
place of free competition. The meaning that students can not make sure a
teacher's view is that a teacher's view exists anywhere. Especially, students
do not have to take break. As students have freedom, they can not use the
Although I explained very roughly, the first class is premodern and the
second classroom is modern. This model is synchronized with Foucault or
Deleuze's model of tyranny system and capitalistic system. The important
thing is how to go beyond the second class without returning the first class.
But, that will be a different story. I want to return to Hokusai and Warhol.
Hokusai's Fuji 36 Views and Warhol's Moroe series are cruelly showing us
premodern and modern. It is because both artists are the sick called real.
Although Hokusai is using Mt. Fuji as a symbol, he is changing their structures
as different as possible. But, we clearly can wee that Warhol's Monroe series
are the works restricted.
However, this comparison has more complicated problems. And also, there
are a lot of similar points between Hokusai and Warhol's works. For example,
Hokusai was creating those day's stars' pictures like Kabuki actors or Sumou
wrestler. Both artists created pornographic works, mass arts etc. But, popular
art is different from Pop art. We also might see the difference between
Eastern and Western culture. Anyway, I will talk about these artists' work
a little bit more.
I will talk about Hokusai first. I feel, I need to explain about the background
of Edo era in Japan.
Japan had been under the rule of Tokugawa since 1603 until 1867, Meiji Restration.
Originally, Tokugawa was a head of samurai(warrior). Japan was the feudal-samurai
society. The hierachy was that samurai, peasant, artisan and merchant. Tokyo
was already the center of Japan. But, Tokyo was called Edo. In 1633, Japan
closed her door except Dutch, China and Korean. And, during the Edo era,
basically, Japan had been peaceful for almost 3 centuries. Under the situation,
many original cultures were born like Kabuki, Jyoruri and Ukiyoe. Ukiyo
means floating world. And also, the word is coming from Buddist thought.
Ukiyoe movement started around the half of 17C and many artists were born.
Although there were some kind of high art school. Ukiyoe movement appeared
with being supported by ordinary people. That is one of the most interesting
points of Ukiyoe. Compared to commercial arts, Fine arts can not get the
evaluation of people so much. That means that fine arts' society is not
so democratic. In such a society, the legitimate evaluation must not be
taken place. But, most people are not always caring about art. A good art
historian or a curator of a museum might be similar to a judge to make decision
to take long times or a huge amount of knowlege. Some teachers just say,
" like or not." But, I had better children's opinion. And, at
present, art is a question. But, an art work never be an answer. And, only
one difinition of arts is fitting with a fascism country.
Anyway, great works of art are asking us various things. Although I found
new subjects like arts and democracy, high and low arts, etc. I want to
keep talking about Hokusai's Fuji series more at this time.
When Hokusai was 70's years old, he created this series with traveling around
Mt. Fuji. Mt. Fuji is the most popular mountain and one of symbols in Japan.
Hokusai created pictures of Mt. Fuji at the place that is much far from
Tokyo. Mt. Fuji's height is about 2360 miles. It is about 62 miles from
Tokyo. He created from the very center of Edo. As some tasty address names
are still left in Tokyo, I can enjoy with comparing. But, I need to be suprised
at the difference. Some people might not believe that we can watch Mt. Fuji
from Tokyo. I only once have watched Mt. Fuji among building from the platform
of Tokyo cirecle line after the rain that took out smokes. As there were
not photos, Ukiyoe is a precious record.
Although Edo was peaceful, actually, various problems were happenning. Tokugawa
was also getting into the corruption. Therefore, people attracted a journey.
This series are also reflecting those people's mind.
I a little want to talk about the character of Hokusai. As long as we are
watching Fuji 36 views, some people might imagine a stoic person. But, actually,
Hokusai was a very strange person. There are a lot of episodes. I want to
talk some of them.
When Hokusai was invited by Tokugawa shogun, he put a long Chinese paper,
and put red ink on feets of a chicken, let the chicken be running around
on the paper. And then, Hokusai said, " These are red leaves on the
Tatsuta river." Hokusai really liked to suprise at people. Hokusai
went to a party of artists with wearing a strange peasant style. And also,
Hokusai put a huge thick paper in front of a Buddist temple, he dropped
a bundle of straws into black ink. And then, Hokusai created a huge drawing
with running on the paper and let people watch it from the steps of the
Hokusai is also famous as a pornographer. He created works like long pornographic
literature. Actually, those are terrible storeis. Hokusai created illusts
of male prostitute, street girls, a list of drugs and sex tools, three nude
men who are doing weight lifting with stones and lechery girls who are watching
them, the combination women and a big octopus, a little girl and a big monkey,
etc. Hokusai was also absorbed in creating his own imitation sounds words
in order to discribe the movement of sex as real as possible. It's like
chu-chu, zu-zu-zu. There are pages that only those words and illustrations.
We already can not see romanticism in those Hokusai's world. Only decadence
But, Hokusai had a strong drawing technique. Therefore, his technique is
avoiding those works will be cheap pornography. And, his pornography seem
to be totally different from Fuji 36 views. But, his paranoia about the
movement is also reflecting Fuji 36 Views. The movement of waves, abnormally
exaggerated structures. I understand impressionists had interest in Hokusai's
Hokusai changed his pen name 30 times in his life. He was also studying
Dutch science with doctors and created anatomical charts. He also created
prints like Western prints, pictures based on Japanese traditional songs,
pictures of ghosts, etc.
When Hokusai was 75 years old, he created Fuji 100 Views. In the preface,
Hokusai is talking like, " Since 6 years old, I have been drawing and
watching various stuffs. There are no meanless pictures. My eyes are getting
clearer and clearer. If I can live until 100 years old, Maybe, I can creat
a picture whose points and lines seem to be living."
In 1849, Hokusai was dead. He was 90 years old. Four years after, American
black ships appeared and requested open country to Japan. In 1867, Meiji
Restration. Edo changed her name to Tokyo. Exactly, Tokyo is To-kyoto that
means East-Capital. Japan accelerated industrialization. And, the goverment
prohibited all pornography. But, after that, Japan went to wars against
foreign countries. And, Japan was getting fascistic. Therefore, historically,
" love and peace " might be a correct thought.
I want to talk about Andy Warhol next. Warhol is also a mass of episodes.
At this time, I read Popism randamly. This book was written in 1980. Warhol
was talking about 60's by himself. Generally, if we talk about 10 or 20
years past, the story will be getting into the field of fiction. And, this
author is Andy Warhol. But, anyway, I want to accept this book honestly.
This book is a very interesting book. But, I a little felt that modern people
are unhappy players that have a heavy task to keep playing. Actually, many
60's young kids were dead early. But, on the other hand, 60's has very important
something for creation. And, the something let us be free. My favorite Japanese
literary man was talking like that. I agree with him.
I also read about Factory in Edie, Sedgiwick's interview biography. And,
Warhol is still coming out through various media. 60's is too. JFK, black
movement, feminism, Bob Dylan, drug, sex, underground, etc. 1960's might
be one of the most turbulence times culturally, after World War II. But,
even though I talk about 60's N.Y., I feel, there are no meaning. Actually,
I do not know 1960's New York.
After Andy Warhol was dead, I a little started caring about Warhol. When
I was in Tokyo, I was temporarilly working at a little unique place that
was dealing with experimental films, video arts and documentaries. Just
after the Cold War, many Eastern European, Russian works were reaching there.
And, in 1990, Warhol's films reached through MoMA. That was the first time
to show on Warhol's films in Japan. I also watched a MoMA's curator there
at a few times. Although the place was dealing with works all over the world,
I did not know well what the directors were thinking. I was just doing a
lot of small works, sometimes selecting photos to magazine, film operation
and so on.
Regrettably, as I also had another physical work, I could not watch Warhol's
films so much. But, I a little operated ' The Chelsea Girls ' by myself.
Actually, ' The Chelsea Girls ' use two multi-screens. We need to start
two projectors at the same time.
Maybe, many artists, people related media watched Warhol's films at that
time. And, I thought that there were a lot of Warhol's funs in Japan. I
guess, 60's NY culture gave infuence to the world young people through media.
Actually, even though I watch photos of Factory now, I feel some kind of
Basically, I like orthodox artworks rather than experimental something.
But, I had a period that I was just watching more than a few thousands experimental
films and videos. Those works were including old 60's undergrand films.
It's like Kenneth Anger, Jonas Mekas, Tony Conrad, etc. I have some CDs
of the Velvet Underground. And also, I was asked to shoot a film performance
as data at Anthology Film Archives. Therefore, I a little can imagine the
atmosphere of 60's New York. But, it is difficult to talk about 60's and
In Popism, Warhol is talking like, " If you want to know about Andy
Warhol, please watch just the surface, there is nothing behind."
But, anyway, I need to talk about Andy Warhol and Monroe series at this
time. If we are just watching surfaces of his works with forgetting about
Warhol's words. We can see various things.
Generally, an artwork is not always equal to artist's words and an artist.
Especially, in the case of Andy Warhol.
Marlyn Monroe is an American big star. Warhol is also using other American
icon like Elvis, Coca-Cola, etc. First of all, those works are showing us
American power. And also, Warhol is putting color on her photos with silkscreen.
It means that the works are not Monroe herself as an icon, those are the
images of Monroe as an icon. In our commercial society, everything is reaching
us as images through media like the image of Hokusai, the image of Emperor,
the image of Warhol, the image of Coca-Cola, etc.
I feel one of the most biggest differences between Hokusai and Warhol is
that Warhol's deeply concerned with modern media, technology, commercialism,
those kinds of stuffs. But, I guess, Edo was also a strong media society
with using woodcut prints, signboards, rumors, etc.
After Marlyn Monroe was dead, he created Monroe series. Therefore, those
works have also images of death. He often use images of death like electric
chairs, crashes. We also can see those works as irony against commercialism.
Generally, images of death are not used on advertisement so much. It is
because images of death are not fitting with images of products or companies.
And, it is good for a commercialism society to expand consumption and production
as much as possible with forgetting about death. But, advertising sometimes
slightly use those negative images as impact. Warhol also might use them
Actually, Warhol was working in a commercial society, he might know that
kind of adverting method throughly. Warhol might be enjoying differences
of communication increasing.
According to repetition, we can see them as images of mass production, losing
Warhol's works are also showing us an unity of between art and daily life.
It is like works of Cambel soup, Monroe as a Pop star, Factory's life, etc.
Anyway, there are a lot of opinions about Andy Warhol. He just wanted to
be famous. Everything was for money.
Around here, I want to talk about Warhol and Pop culture on a little larger
perspective. Generally, I am chasing several subjects at the same time.
Warhol also come out in other fields. As I found an article of Warhol in
Documenta 7, I want to talk about that. Warhol is sometimes compared with
An artist went to Documenta 7. He found three painting dropped by only green
color. He had not noticed that those works were Warhol's, until he watched
the artist's name. Those works seemed to be the worst works in Documenta
7. After that, the artist heard that Warhol created those painting to piss
on the canvases painted by some kind of reaction liquid.
Why did Warhol show on such works in Documenta ?
Documenta is one of the most contraversial contemporary art exhibition in
the world. In 1955, Documenta started. During the World War II, the founder,
Mr. Bode promised his wife," If this war finish, I will open a very
wonderful exhibition with collecting avangarde and artworks suppressed by
the Nazis." Documenta has such a historical significance. And, Documenta
requests artists critical views and necessities against the world. And,
Documenta is a document of our time.
Certainly, seriousness is sometimes dangerous. The attitude to believe a
specific ideology very firmly and try to change the world sometimes lose
flexibility. Popism might be far from Nazism or fascism. If everybody can
be like Andy Warhol perfectly, that can be protection against fascistic
But, I think, it is impossible. Andy Warhol is genius.
After the World War I, Japanese young people were spending like easy Pop
life. But, when a time came, everybody changed to be an ultra-nationalist.
Easy Pop attitude can not resist the power trying to control.
In 1992, I went to Kassel in Germany. And, I watched a huge amount of artworks
in Documenta 9. Although I was very exhausted with some reasons, I think,
that was very good experience for me now. And, I think, Jan Hoet's view
is very important.
I a little miss that Japan has no art exhibiton like Documenta. However,
Japan has a constitution.
Japanese constitution No.9 is the constitution that realized the Western
ideal philosophy. Absolutely, a prayer for peace exists in the constitution.
And, after the World War II, the United States created the constitution.
Although two-thirds Japanese agree to change it, the constitution will disappear.
But, Japan is sill keeping the constitution in 1995. Off course, personally,
I want to keep going based on the significant spirits.
People who talk about peace or human rights might be hypocritical. It is
because their ideas are never realized perfectly. But, if hypocrites increase,
that has effects in some extend. And, at least, people who seem to be hypocrites
are hoping goodness. But, people who say that I am bad are hoping nothing.
They are just getting relief with owing miserable figures. Those attitudes
are Pop. And also, that is the bad aspect of some Japanese.
I feel, those worst attitudes are a little spreading to the world. When
people give up complicated thinking and seek a simple solution, fascism
and war will start. Frankly, I am not watching the present situation so
I want to think about Warhol's words, " there is nothing behind "
Actually, Warhol was not creating any messages, but not keeping silence.
Warhol was just quating Pop images from a commercial society and repeating,
expanding those images like a machine. There were no workers in Factory.
Only, a machine called Andy Warhol was moving very violently.
In those days, everybody might be creating some messages or criticizing
against something. Although Warhol was quating images from commercialism,
he might be not criticizing commercialism. And also, Warhol were not denying
a high arts society. He was just quating, repeating and expanding. But,
anyone could not do like Andy Warhol.
I feel, Warhol's opinion, " nothing behind " is very reasonable.
Nothing is nothing. But, the Post Cold War era, the nothing is returning
us as a strong irony on media landscape.
Marcel Duchamp's desire to be a machine. Andy Warhol also disappeared as
a Pop machine.
But, most contemporary people are andoroids.
History is being cut-up, sampled, remixed through media. Our heads are increasing
( or forgetting ) those artificial memories and memories from experience.
Recently, I feel, too much android is a little unhealthy.
Actually, any culture, country has some kind of trauma. But, I think, it
is not so good that next generation take over those traumas.
But, regrettablly, I sometimes feel that realistically in New York. I did
not go to Pearl Harbor. I did not do slaughters in Asia. But, I really can
not understand the reason why Japanese goverment never make apologize to
Frankly, I am a little thinking about history, recently.
Normally thinking, the purpose of history is not to repeat past mistakes.
And, although I don't dislike to be in past nostalgia deeply, if we watch
pasts through contemporary views, we can get more rich something. And also,
that is to know the present through those views. Therefore, I like architectures
in Kyoto. But, I also like the Brooklyn Museum.
But, why are some people so conservative in the United States ? There is
fearful something. Personally, I am hoping New York is still running at
the latest point of capitalism as the melting pot of people and culture.
Anyway, I am thinking about history like this with reading some books. There
are a lot of opinions.
History is a struggle of different ideologies. Therefore, after the Cold
War, history was almost end ?
History is already losing the meaning or disappearing in the present information
society. Although a sociologist was talking this opinion, I felt, this is
synchronized with Warhol's irony ' nothing.'
Actually, all events are coming out on TV screen at real time. We already
have no enough time to recognize the meaning of events. We are just watching
fragments or surfaces of events. Among those, historical events are also
coming out with losing context. Not only that, we are surrounded by books,
magazines, newspapers and electric circuits like internet. The artist is
saying, history is not already functioning properly. Every events are disappearing
in a moment like mist into a heavy storm of information. Our time has already
been into the stage without noticing. If so, even though each person think
about history and anyone says anything. It is nonsense. We are in the situation
like Andy Warhol. But, actually, we can not make sure it.
The hell of real time of techno-science.
And, politics is already losing normal control. Under the situation, all
countries economies will be breaking down. In the worst case, even though
fascism will start again. I want to make sure, we are still living in nuclear
And, the sociologist was talking about gambling by positive illusions.
Although I did not understand it perfectly, I a little thought about the
citizens of Kobe. But, Aum, Oklahoma terros came out as very negative illusions.
Optimism just after cold war disappeared in a moment. Still, various wars
and slaughters are continuing in the world.
On the other hand, there is an opinion that history started again. Under
the situation. We need to increase cultural exchange and deepen understanding
each culture much more.
And also, history and politics are illusions of words. History books and
world maps are papers. There is an opinion down to earth or outside earth.
Off course, we need to use this as a positive illusion. Actually, we are
living now. Even though we use a space ship, it is impossible to find political
borders on the earth. It is not bad thing that we sometimes think about
the beautiful blue earth. If people take this badly, this opinion will be
anarchism. But, those people are a little bit sick called stereotype. Recently,
I created works including this. But, I a little needed to imagine John Lenon's
pale face. But, some people showed me positive signs. Although I could not
answer well, I appreciate them. But, enviromental issues are very serious.
I think, Racism is also visual and words. I feel, we need to train to watch
from a distance and close. And, Love is always finding detail.