September 18, 2015

Poem in Woodcut

        Here’s an interesting woodcut by Haku Maki (Japan, 1924-2000), entitled “Poem 12-42.”  Not being able to read these characters myself, I’m unable to say to what extent they’ve been distorted or altered for purposes of Art.  In fact, I have no idea what this says at all, if it even says anything.  Haku Maki did illustrate a translation of Festive Wine: Ancient Japanese Poems from the Kinkafu, in 1968-9, and I’m guessing this may be one of those illustrations.  Unfortunately I can’t state that for sure because the Cleveland Museum of Art, which owns this piece, simply doesn’t give much info about it on their web site.
        So forget the background, and just look at it as an image in black and white, a composition of lines and shapes.  The characters are arranged in a grid, each being given a square space, and the more complicated characters read lighter because they have more white lines.  However, although the structure of the piece is severely geometrical, the lines and shapes of the characters themselves are rather wobbly and organic.
        I’m sure someone who can read Japanese would be getting a very different, more nuanced sense from this relief block print.  It certainly adds a major caveat to any claims about The Universal Language of Art!  Nevertheless, I like the look of it.  I like the pattern, and I even like the feeling that there’s hidden meaning here, even though I can’t interpret it.

[Picture: Poem 12-42, embossed woodcut by Haku Maki, c 1968? (Image from the Cleveland Museum of Art).]

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