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Maki Haku (1924-2000)

Japanese Monochrome Woodblock Print 

Ox (Ushi)

by Maki Haku, 1962

Maki Haku (1924-2000)

IHL Cat. #1336h

About This Print

One of ten modern prints by different artists chosen for James Michener’s 1962 seminal work and portfolio of prints The Modern Japanese Print: An Appreciation, a work that brought Maki and the other included artists to international attention. [Note: This print is tipped into Michener's book and placed under a mat that covers its margin, hiding the artist's signature, the print's title and the edition number.]

In his introduction to this print, Michener tell us:

This calligraphic design by Maki is for several reasons an appropriate capstone to this book. For one thing, it demonstrates rather clearly the manner in which the younger artists are adapting the oldest techniques to their particular needs. [Maki]. . . gains much force by utilizing three different qualities of black: the traditional solid black in the upright stroke; a medium-force black in the lower horizontal stroke; and a handsomely mottled semi-gray black in the upper curved stroke. This wide contrast yields a most pleasing effect, and the eye is constantly lured from one of the variations to the other.

A second deviation from old patterns is Maki's skillful use of three different textures of wood: the traditional solid, unblemished printing of the upright; the striking vertical graining of the lower horizontal; and the pleasing delicate mottling of the upper curve. Again, these textures carry the eye from one part of the design to the next, and when the variation in texture is wedded to the basic variation in the value of the black, a constant movement of symbol is attained, a kind of stately minuet of black and texture as forst one shape and the next takes command of the eye. Study the print for some minutes and watch this persuasive dance begin.

The third innovation is, of course, the most important. This concerns Maki's skilled use of the calligraphic symbol as the subject matter of art. In the contest several artists submitted prints constructed from calligraphic designs: some were marvelous free-flowing constructions in which the ideographs which Japan originally borrowed from China stood out conspicuously; others were bold utilizations of ideographic elements but without quite forming specific ideographs that could be identified; still others were abstractions which contained the merest suggestion of a calligraphic base.

The decision was finally made in favor of the present Maki. . . because its symbol was clearly derived from calligraphy yet so subtly modified as to free it from an obvious bondage. Furthermore, the symbol was used in such a controlled manner, both in coloring-texture and in disposition, as to remind the viewer that this was a work of conscious art.1

Maki himself offers the below:

This print is based upon the character 牛, meaning cow or ox. I have here tried to give our cultural heritage of such ideographs a modern feel, but in an Oriental style. This meant 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. The beauty of sumi, in it monochrome black, penetrates to the back of the paper and forbids decorative exaggeration or irrelevancies. This effect combines with a succinct and straightforward approach to create a space and an expression that, though intentionally compact, still have a quiet and gentle spread. The two small red 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.2

The following technical information is also provided:
THE PRINT: Artist's title: "Ushi" (Ox). Four blocks (cherry, lauan, and sen) of both solid board and plywood. One block printed in gaufrage to define the outer limits of the print with its embossed line, and the others printed in sumi ink and black Japanese-style pigment, on natural-color kozo paper. One impression for the gaufrage block and two impressions each for the black blocks.3

1 The Modern Japanese Print - An Appreciation, James Michener, Charles E. Tuttle Co., 1968, p. 52.
2 Ibid., p. 54.
3 Ibid.

Print Details

 IHL Catalog  #1336h
 Title  Ox (Ushi 牛)
 Maki Haku (1924-2000)

Haku Maki in pencil, lower right margin
Maki in pencil within lower left of print's image area above rectangular artist seal
Maki used two artist seals on this print. In the lower left image area he placed the above red square seal and in the upper right of the image he printed the below rectangular seal.
 Publication Date  1962
 Publisher  self-published (463/510) 
 Printer  self-printed
 Impression  excellent
 Colors  excellent
 Condition  excellent
 Genre  sosaku-hanga (creative print)
 H x W Paper  18 7/8 x 12 5/8 in. (47.9 x 32.1 cm)
 H x W Image  17 x 11 1/16 in. (43.2 x 28.1 cm) area within the rectangular "plate" line.
 16 5/8 x 10 3/8 in. (42.2 x 26.4 cm ) image area
 Collections This Print  Portland Art Museum, Portland, Oregon 2004.39j; Brookly Museum 63.15.10; Philadelphia Museum of Art 1964-201-1(10); Birmingham Museum of Art, Alabama 1990.93.10
 Reference Literature  The Modern Japanese Print - An Appreciation, James Michener, Charles E. Tuttle Co., 1968
latest revision:
3/28/2019 created