Pipes in Art- Katsushika Hokusai
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13 June 2012

Pipes in Art- Katsushika Hokusai

When we think of pipes in art, it's easy for our first thoughts to be of images specifically from Western works. From Adriaen Brouwer's unflinching scenes of early 17th-century hedonism, to the stylized Cubist still-lifes of Juan Gris, to the sentimental illustrations of Norman Rockwell, the tobacco pipe has indeed seen great popularity in the art of Europe and the Americas alike. The Occidental world, however, hardly has had a monopoly on the enjoyment of tobacco - indeed being responsible for its dissemination across the globe. Of course, the people of each culture that adopted the pipe also adapted it to suit their own tastes, their environment, and their supply of tobacco itself.

Much like the older clays of Europe, designed for sparing use of an imported luxury, the traditional Japanese kiseru features a long, slender stem and a small bowl - only even more so. Contrasting those delicate clays, longer metal-stemmed kiseru, slung from one's waist, were (so they say) adopted by those forbidden to bear weapons - both as tools for self-defense and as the accoutrements of gangster culture.

While the gracile proportions of the kiseru, along with various aspects of the traditional techniques and approaches of Japanese art, results in their presence often being rather discrete, you can still certainly find them if you're looking. Take, for example, that most widely-known of all Japanese artists, Katsushika Hokusai. Whether it's his vibrant, dream-like color prints of looming mountains and towering seas, or his haunting renderings of legendary ghosts, demons, and spirits, when people think of "Japanese art", odds are the first images to pop into mind are going to be his works - whether they even know him by name or not.

As it so happens, it didn't take very long to find Hokusai depictions of kiseru in the former and the latter alike, as well as quite a few of a more day-to-day nature:

Mishima Pass in Kai Province

Mishima Pass in Kai Province


Can you spot the man enjoying his pipe? Have a closer look. His posture was the only thing that gave it away to my eye:

Mishima Pass in Kai Province -detail

Mishima Pass in Kai Province -detail


And below, a much more obvious one, obviously - and which also happens to be a self-portrait:

Old Fisherman Smoking His Pipe

Old Fisherman Smoking His Pipe


As was the case in contemporary Europe, Japanese men were not the only ones partial to to the ritual and experience involved of smoking tobacco through a pipe:




Yes, Japanese women also smoked kiseru. As did, apparently, terrible monsters in the guise of Japanese women - all the better to fool their neighbors into believing they were perfectly ordinary subjects of the Emperor. In this case, they’re rokurokubi, creatures whose natural tendency is to delight in terrifying mortals, and whose mystic power (and telltale feature) are necks that magically extend in the night. Some Japanese folklore apparently tells of rokurokubi who do not know they are not human, and whose necks only extend as they sleep, leaving them with disorienting dreams of seeing the world from highly unusal (and highly, well, high) angles. Those of us who’ve underestimated certain blends can no doubt relate to the sensation.


Eric Squires: Copywriter

 Eric Squires: Copywriter

Posted by eric at 10:00 AM | Link | 1 comment

Re: Pipes in Art- Katsushika Hokusai
A fasinating and illuminating article.
Would like to see more.
Well done Eric.

Posted by squirenorm on June 14, 2012 at 12:19 AM

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