Haku Maki Catalogue Raisonné, A Work in Progress
Haku Maki (1924 – 2000) was a Japanese artist of the second half of the 20th century. He first made his name and his living by producing prints featuring Chinese characters (kanji). His life as an artist dates from the mid-1950s, when the earliest known Maki prints began appearing.
Haku Maki was born in Aso-machi in Ibaraki Prefecture in 1924, as Maejima Tadaaki. In the late 1950s, he selected the name Haku Maki to show his humility and self-styled confusion. If translated literally, "Maki" is Roll, "Haku" is White.
Maki produced about 2000 different images. This makes him one of the most prolific Japanese print makers of his day. Yet he did not keep a running list of the prints as he made them. Moreover, there is no catalogue raisonné of his work. I have tried to build one by, over many years, compiling a very large archive of images of his work. I continue to add new images to it as previously unseen prints come to light. The images that you see today on this website are the first tranche. There will be more added from time to time.
This website is for those who know and love Maki prints and collect them—and for those who need an introduction to his work. It is for the graduate student researching him—and for the person who simply wants to browse a Japanese artist’s oeuvre for a while.
A catalogue raisonné is a collection of all the works of an artist. There is none such for Maki’s work because he did not do one and no one has been able to do one. This site will help produce such a catalogue some time in the future—but not now. Thus, this site will be a catalogue raisonné in progress: we will pull no punches and include the entire Maki oeuvre as I know it—the beautiful and the ugly.
The largest single source for finding hitherto unknown Maki prints in the 21st century is eBay. No other single source has as many fresh and not-so-fresh Maki images.
Several galleries in the US have very strong collections of Maki prints. I have found very few in Japan. One friend in Japan always says “they have gone to your country.” For decades, however, the Yoseido Gallery in Tokyo has been for me an important source of prints, knowledge and advice.
In the US, there are fine collections of Maki prints:
The Ren Brown Collection and Scriptum Gallery (both in northern California) are strong, as are The Brandt Collection, Azuma Gallery, Frank Castle’s Castle Fine Arts, Petrie Rogers Asian Fine Art and Antiques, Floating World Gallery, and James Main Fine Art. There is also Galerie am Haus der Kunst in Munich, Germany.
Some museums have good collections—these include Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), Portland Art Museum, Cincinnati Museum of Art, and the Cleveland Art Museum.
There are several friends—Maki experts—with whom I am in frequent conversation. Ren Brown, David Bieling, Todd Burke, and Michael Minckler are generous with their views, knowledge of Maki, and help in capturing new images and buying prints. Fumio Ushizawa, an old friend of Maki, has offered me knowledge and guidance over many decades, as manager of Yoseido Gallery.
Maki print titles tell a lot
Maki began making prints in the late 1950s and continued until 1999. Early on, he developed a system of including the year of production of a print in the print’s title. Hence Work 614 is the 4th print done in 1961, Poem 70-45 is the 45th print of 1970. When Maki added 23/125 we know it is the 23rd print of a total run of 125. This pattern was used from the early 1960s to about 1980. The Collection series ushered in a modified dating pattern—Collection 861 means the first print of 1986.
Maki’s creation of the San Mon Ban series in 1975 is an exception to his tendency to include the year of publication on each work. The San Mon Ban series contained 7 books, each with 12 original prints, each print with a simple number: say, 74. San Mon Ban prints only carried a number title, no year.
Key Maki images and themes
Maki’s calligraphic images may be a true kanji, a modified kanji, or a very old Japanese-style kanji or a Maki-created kanji. They may be katakana or a very old calligraphic design Maki discovered and enhanced.
It was Maki’s style to depict a main image with an embossed technique. Normally that central subject is kanji, a persimmon or ceramics. It is produced from a cement block into which Maki carved the image’s design; the print was created from the cement block. Then Maki added a title and a number identifying the number of the print in the run, then affixed his red seal (chop) and signed off in English in pencil. In his earliest works he used a single sheet of paper but by 1963 he had begun to use a double sheet. This thicker paper made it possible to do better embossed, highly textured works In their heyday Maki’s prints look sharp and modern—even as the themes are all pre-modern.
Themes are below, in the rough order in which he did them.
· Emanation is a big work. We know he did 100 images in this series but I only have fewer than 30. That means about 70 remain hidden away, probably in private collections. I have no idea why he chose this title even as I know he knew English and must have liked the sound and meaning.
· Cell actually depicted bodily cells.
· Dance is a small series. I think they all look like people dancing but I can also say that for other works.
· Poem began in 1967 and prints in this series always consisted of at least one character but could have more.
· Figure is a small series done in the mid-1960s. It has at least two early Big Reds.
· Big Reds, a name I have given to several prints that are calligraphic images made of large red strokes on a black field. He began doing them in the mid-1960s and continued for a decade; they are from the Poem, Dance and Figure series.
· Work began in the early 1960s, then after a pause began again when the Poem series ended (around 1970). The Work series contains mainly kanji.
· Collection which began in 1977 was only ceramics.
It should be noted that Persimmons began to be depicted in the early 1970s; he continued to do them until around 1981. (Many persimmon images are from the long-hidden collection of Rie Ohtomo, the daughter of Maki’s sister-in- law. This is the only private cache I know of that I have not examined but it exists. All images from it are on this site.)
Kanji-themed prints invariably were enhanced with a splash, a dash or both. Maki’s kanji are strikingly abstract. At their best they show swaths of red, white and other colors as if shooting across a sheet. These strokes are worked into the paper after the print was pulled off the press by Maki. The images are sharp and clear, even 40 years after production.
An important achievement in Maki’s early career was providing prints for Festive Wine, an English translation of a 9th-century Japanese book Kinkafu (the translators were William Elliott and Noah Brannen, in 1968-69). Brannen and Elliott invited Haku Maki to produce prints for the book. It is a book of 21 images, Poem 1 through 21.
Ceramic vessels were a main theme for Maki from 1977. For some reason, they appear in public less frequently than, say, Poem prints. Ceramic prints have various titles. The first ceramic title was Collection but it was followed by Tokkuri Hanto (a Tokkuri is a sake bottle).
This website has had a long gestation period. My wife and I started collecting Maki prints in the late 1960s. We continued to do so to the end of the 20th century and then expanded rapidly and very widely.
In Beijing three major developments occurred. I started to collect more and more of Maki’s work. Then in 2002 we started to collect images of Maki prints downloaded from the Net as well as obtained from many sources. In the early stages of gathering Maki print images, David Bieling kindly provided many images for my collection. Ms Wu Naiping, my very capable and enterprising secretary, said we could download and show images—and then we started to really chase Maki.
By 2003 we had a good database under way. I showed it off to Ren Brown and David Bieling at the Ren Brown Collection in California and we kept adding to the archives. In 2007 I published my book and we continued collecting images.
Robert Craft is an old classmate in the first intake class of the East West Center in Hawaii in the early 1960s. He, my wife and I have known each other for a long time. In the years we’ve been living in Beijing, we would go back to the US every year and Bob would drive us to Ren’s gallery and listen to me talk about Maki and the archive. In one of my audacious moments I talked about putting this archive on line and was told it could not be done. Bob Craft has come out of “retirement” in San Francisco to ramrod this project—a magnificent effort to put my Maki archive on line—and expose Maki’s work to millions who might not know it. Maki would have loved it, I am sure.
We in Beijing provided the images. But Bob Craft discovered the way to put all this on line. And he did the painstaking work of inputting all the raw data into online descriptions. They are capable of being used as data sets for any and all Maki prints—images already in hand and fresh ones. We now have full entries for 1200 records with more being done daily. We begin with those and will continue.
We have well over 2000 images in hand, although they have not all been put into record format. As these records are processed, they will be added to the website.
If any viewer has new images to suggest, please send them to Bob Craft or me. Please send the image, its size, and a bottom margin. Keep it simple.
- Dan Tretiak in Beijing