Alfa Romeo 4C Hokusai is Garage Italia's Love Letter to Japan

Japonisme at its finest

Following its earlier celebration of Italian culture with the BMW i8 Futurism Edition, Garage Italia Customs has turned its eye to Japan for its latest creation. The Alfa Romeo 4C Hokusai leans on the most recognizable motif of Japanese art in history—the Great Wave off Kanagawa.

Garage Italia says it turned to the 4C for this project because of Japan's long-standing love affair with Alfa Romeo. If you've ever been to the ritzier parts of Tokyo, you'll know that the well-heeled there have an insatiable affection for Italian exotics in general.  And just as the Japanese obsess over Alfa, Ferrari, and Lamborghini, Westerners have long fetishized Japanese culture as part of a phenomenon known as Japonisme.

After Japan ended its 220-year period of seclusion and isolationist policy in 1854, the world got its first large-scale taste of Japanese craftworks and visual art. Westerners, discovering Japanese culture at festivities like the 1876 Centennial celebration in Philadelphia, became fascinated. Colorful, widely available, and cheaply produced woodcut prints soon were widely circulated in the international art market. Hokusai's Great Wave is by far the most famous of these, though it is part of a larger series called 36 Views of Mt. Fuji.

The Alfa Romeo 4C Hokusai, like many college dormitory walls and stickers, prominently features a giant wave about to swallow some small fishing boats. Garage Italia says the entire scene is hand-painted on the Alfa's lightweight sheet-molding compound body, which matches an outrageous denim and leather-wrapped interior. Kurabo denim covers the dashboard, steering wheel, seats, and center tunnel, and features koi-patterned Foglizzo leather inserts throughout. Just in case you didn't get this was a Japan-themed custom car, the steering wheel and parking brake handle are made to look like samurai sword hilts. It's definitely over-the-top, down to the blinding blue wheel paint, but in some ways that's the point.

Garage Italia will show the Alfa Romeo 4C Hokusai alongside the BMW i8 Futurism Edition at the Los Angeles Venus Gallery through September 10. The two cars are included in a show entitled Piston Heads II: Artists Engage the Automobile.

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