Haku Maki (巻白, 1924-2000) is a Japanese modernist printmaker and ceramicist known for his modern kanji-themed (calligraphy) designs and embossed prints.
Haku Maki was born in Asomachi, Ibaraki Prefecture, Japan with the name “Maejima Tadaaki” in 1924. During the Second World War, Haku Maki was enlisted in the special squadron of kamikaze pilots, but was never assigned to his duty because the war ended when Japan surrendered August 14, 1945. After the war, Haku Maki started teaching at a high school and began an association with Koshiro Onchi (1891-1955) through the Modern Print Research Society. This association inspired him to focus on printmaking. Around the same time in 1950, Maejima Tadaaki changed his name to Haku Maki - ‘Haku’ translating to ‘white,’ ‘Maki’ to ‘roll.’ Haku Maki’s friendship with Onchi also led to opportunities to show around Japan and the U.S.
Haku Maki translating to ‘roll,’ emerged into the art scene with his prints that feature Chinese kanji characters. His kanji-themed prints were enhanced with a mark or dash of color after the paper was pulled off the press. Sometimes Haku Maki would alter the kanji script and modify the characters to his own invention of typography, coined as “Maki-created kanji.” The prints became Haku Maki’s visual interpretations of old Japanese poems and are each titled by the name of the chosen poem. This strikingly abstract technique made Haku Maki a quick star in the art world. He also developed a technique by chiseling woodblocks and cement molds, which created deep embossing (raised reliefs) into the paper that made the image nearly three-dimensional. Haku Maki embossed various shapes and repetitive patterns, which some Haku Maki collectors claim is an allusion to biological cells. The artist also created a series of prints with realistic depictions of persimmons - a stark contrast from his modern and abstract work. The Persimmon series was created in the 1970s and 80s when Haku Maki was at the peak of his career. He chose to depict persimmons simply because it was one of his favorite fruits. He portrayed the persimmons with lacquer-like sheen with various depictions - snow covered branches, shadowed leaves, and blacked out backgrounds.
In the last portion of his life and artistic career, Haku Maki produced ceramic vessels. The artist experimented with the surface of the ceramics and various glazing techniques. Haku Maki’s ceramic alludes to similar designs and textures from his prints. He also created photo realistic illustrations on prints after the ceramic vessels. Haku Maki mastered his ability to print almost photo-like depictions. He worked up various layers of color to achieve the final image, while using conventional printmaking ink. The artist’s craftsmanship is also notable because his finished prints remained clean, free from any loose or stray ink marks. Over the span of his life, the artist produced over 2,000 different images and at least 100,000 prints. However, Haku Maki did not keep record of his works, and neither did any gallery or collector. Therefore, no full catalogue raisonné exists. Author Daniel Tretiak originally intended to complete a catalog of the artist's oeuvre, but his motive was soon proven an impossible task. Instead, Tretiak’s The Life and Works of Haku Maki, published by Outskirts Press, Inc., provides in-depth information about the artist's life and work. In 1969, Haku Maki designed prints to accompany 21 ancient poems called Kinkafu (Music for Wagon Songs) that were translated to English for the book, Festive Wine: Ancient Japanese Poems from the Kinkafu- published by Walker/Weatherhill and written and translated by Noah Brannen and William Elliott.
Haku Maki continued to work until his death in 2000. He exhibited all over the world including the Japanese Prints Association (1955-1990), Tokyo International Biennales (1957, 1959, 1960, 1970), San Francisco Pavilion (1967), Pistoia International Print Biennale (1970), Azuma Gallery in Seattle (1995, 1996), and Kabutoya Gallery in San Francisco (1991). Fumio Ushizawa, an old friend of Haku Maki and manager of Yoseido Gallery in Tokyo, administers an archive of the artist’s work. However, much of Haku Maki’s work can be found in American collections: Ren Brown Collection, Scriptum Gallery, The Brandt Collection, Azuma Gallery, Frank Castle’s Castle Fine Arts, Petrie Rogers Asian Fine Art and Antiques, Floating World Gallery, John & Sharon McCarthy Collection, and James Main Fine Art. Galerie am Haus der Kunst in Munich, Germany also holds some of the artist’s work. Haku Maki’s prints can also be found in museums like the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art in New York, Art Institute of Chicago, Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts in San Francisco, British Museum, Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Cincinnati Art Museum.