Maki Haku (巻白) is the art name of Maejima Tadaaki who was born in Asomachi in Ibaragi Prefecture. He had no formal art training, although after the Second World War he did involve himself in meetings guided by the visionary modernist Onchi Kôshirô at the Ichimoku-kai (First Thursday Society: 一木会), where he learned much from the master and interacted with other "creative print" (sôsaku hanga: 創作版画) artists. Although his earliest work was strongly influenced by Onchi, Maki gradually developed his own style, particularly when he turned to calligraphic motifs and introduced embossing in his mixed-media designs.
Maki used various printing techniques and media, but he is best known for his combined woodcut, stencil, plastic-and-paper lamination, and cement-relief block prints in which the cement-paste (cement mixed with water and chemical bond) was carved, scored, sandpapered, and chiseled. The blocks were then rubbed and pressed onto paper, first with hand pressure and then with the aid of an etching press to produce a laminated, raised relief or three-dimensional effect. He used both water-based and oil-based pigments. His style was sometimes abstract-calligraphic, sometimes representational. When he used calligraphic elements he attempted to use traditional ideographs while introducing modernist aspects to their shapes, sometimes abandoning their traditional forms, adding or subtracting elements, and rearranging them for aesthetic or expressive effect.
Maki's later works included a broad range of variations on the use of calligraphic shapes. The print illustrated above is titled "79-14 (Grandfather)" from the edition of 205. The first two digits in the title indicate the year, 1979, while the number "14" identifies it as the fourteenth design from the year 1979. The image size is 232 x 202 mm. The print is signed "Haku Maki" in English and sealed Haku Maki at the lower right. The embossed ideograph is a stylization or reshaping of the word for "grandfather" (爺). There is surely an anthropomorphic quality to much of Makis calligraphy, and one might interpret the present example as intentionally playful, possibly with a suggestion of grandchildren and their exuberant energy, which would be so vital to a grandfather's happiness. The transformation of the ideograph for "grandfather" into the lively, youthful calligraphic shapes appears to bridge symbolically the different generations and bring them "full circle" (as is perhaps implied by the small circle in the center of the composition).
Beginning around 1979, another recurring theme in Maki's oeuvre was the ceramic bowl, including chawan (tea bowls or cups: 茶碗). The example shown here on the left is titled "Collection 882" from an edition of 200 issued in 1988. This block print with embossing includes applied gold leaf for the Zen circle (called ensô, 円相). The artist signed twice, "Haku" (白) in ink at the lower left, and "H. Maki" in pencil on the right in the lower margin. There are two seals, one reading Maki Haku (巻白) at the lower left, and another reading Uogo-koro ("fish" and "heart": 魚心) at the upper right. The realism of Maki's ceramic images, and especially the relief printing, suggests that the artist wanted to recreate these bowls by capturing their textures and three-dimensional character.
In 1968-69, Maki designed 21 block prints to accompany a deluxe book titled Festive Wine (Weatherhill, 1969) featuring kayô (ancient poetic songs: 歌謡) composed from the fifth to ninth centuries. The poems had been compiled in a handwritten scroll called the Kinkafu (Music for wagon wheels: 琴歌譜). The title refers to an early Japanese harp, a precursor to the modern koto (琴), which Maki stylized in the frontispiece to Festive Wine (see design in red below). The Kinkafu poems were recorded in two forms: verses and song scores. The Kinkafu scroll was discovered in June 1924 in the Kyoto University Library by the scholar Sasaki Nobutsuna, although five of the same poems were known in the Kojiki (Record of ancient manners: 古事記) from 712 CE, an early Japanese chronicle of myths, legends, songs, genealogies, oral traditions, and semi-historical accounts down to 641. Maki's prints offered a lively complement to the content and spirit of the poems. Although Maki's forms are derived from calligraphy and thus have meanings linking each to a poem, it is the designs that were paramount.
Maki once said that, "I have ... tried to give our cultural heritage of such ideographs a modern feel, but in an Oriental style. This means trying to capture the typically Japanese expression of the beauty of space, the sense of reverence for and persistent pursuit of boundless space, while at the same time taking advantage of the boundary provided by the beauty and life of the paper itself." As is the case with many other modern artists, the placement of artist seals was no haphazard. Maki said, "... seals are an integral part of the composition, providing color and a focal point and thus making the impersonality of the sumi's space deeper and wider and warmer." For an example, placement for two seals, see the image above left. [quotes from Michener ref.]
Maki’s prints can be found in many institutional collections, including the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria; Art Institute of Chicago; British Museum; Brooklyn Museum, New York; Cleveland Museum of Art; Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; Harvard Art Museums; Honolulu Museum of Art; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Philadelphia Museum; Portland Art Museum, Oregon; and Tikotin Museum of Japanese Art, Haifa. © 2001-2021 by John Fiorillo