Haku Maki became famous by using old Chinese and Japanese kanji characters and refining them into abstract compositions of archaic look. Later the artist chose persimmons and ceramics as his favorite subjects. Haku Maki's prints are in high demand by collectors worldwide - mainly from the USA.
A few years ago, little was known about the artist's life. We then stumbled upon a book "The Life and Works of Haku Maki" by Daniel Tretiak, we decided to rewrite this whole article about Haku Maki.
From Kamikaze Pilot to Art Teacher
The artist was born in 1924 under the name of Maejima Tadaaki in 1924 in the small town Asomachi in the Ibaraki Prefecture.
In 1945 the artist's life had nearly ended. He was in a special squadron of kamikaze pilots. However the surrender of Japan on August 14, 1945 saved his life, and he became a teacher at a high school.
In 1950 he changed his name to Haku Maki. And he became the famous artist as whom we know him today.
Health problems made it often difficult for him to create his art works. In 2000 he died of cancer.
Haku Mai is mainly known for his abstract prints showing some odd hieroglyphics that look like misterious messages found on old stones that were excavated by archaeologists and are now waiting to be deciphered.
The "odd hieroglyphics" are actually old Chinese kanji characters that were refined by Haku Maki to make them look better. Often the prints are titled as "poems" and a number suffix to identify them.
During his later years Haku Maki made also images of ceramics, mostly bowls, and of persimmons. There are also a few designs showing trees, a theme of modern Japanese prints that has been adopted by many Japanese artists after 1945.
I remember when we once had a return ("I hate returns.") of a Haku Maki print bought in one of our auctions. The client had discovered a color spot on the print. We were not familiar with all aspects of Haku Maki's works at that time. Now we know it better. After 1960 Haku Maki began to integrate splashes of colors into some of his designs.
Daniel Tretiak calls them "splashes", others speak of "color tears". The artist used these to achieve more balanced compositions by setting "counterparts" in colors.
Haku Maki's Technique
The artist first carved a conventional woodblock. Then he put cement around the carved areas. When the cement had dried out, Haku Maki carved and chiseled the cement into the shape he wanted to have. Then a wet, double-layered paper was used for the printing. Thus prints made in this technique show strong embossing. Haku Maki's works look nearly three-dimensional.
The Market for Haku Maki Prints
I personally think that there are only two ways to look at Haku Maki prints. You like them, or you don't. But no doubt, they have been in high demand since his lifetime and they are fashionable. In my view, the major demand comes from Americans. European collectors tend to be more conservative in their tastes.
As demand was already soaring before the artist's death, the edition size is usually around 150. Often Haku Maki with his continuous health problems could not keep up with market demand. His wife had helped him with printing.
Works by the artist are not quite cheap, but they are still affordable.
The book about Haku Maki, written by Daniel Tretiak, was originally intended as a complete catalog of the artist's works. But it soon turned out that this was a mission impossible. Instead, the book provides intensive information about the artist's life and his artistic creations on circa 120 pages.
The text is written in an understandable manner and factual, and thus makes a positive contrast to the usual high-hog wishy-washy of art books. Haku Maki's artistic oeuvre is demonstrated by illustrations of his works. But the illustrations do not make it a coffee table book. Instead it is a very informative and an interesting source for all those who are interested in the artist Haku Maki.
"The Life and Works of Haku Maki", by Danel Tretiak, Outskirts Press Inc., Denver Colorado, ISBN-13: 978-1-4327-0575-6.
Here is a small selection of international exhibitions of the artist. (after "The Life and Works of Haku Maki", by Daniel Tretiak).
1955-1990 - Exhibitions with Japanese Prints Association.
Festive Wine - Poem 16
Museum of Modern Art, New York, USA.
Information on Haku Maki from Artelino.com