A haiga is a visual illustration that accompanies a haiku. Typically created with the same brush that composed the haiku, a haiga offers a visual modality that writing often lacks. Late in his career, the artist Stanton Macdonald-Wright created his Haiga Portfolio, consisting of twenty illustrations to accompany his selection of haiku by six master practitioners of the Japanese haikai no renga form. From the work of these poets—Bashō, Buson, Issa, Shiki, Chiyo-ni, and Hokushi—Macdonald-Wright created abstract woodblock portraits of landscapes both violent and serene, animals large and small, and people in the heights and depths of their emotions.
This exhibition features the portfolio, a gift of the Stanton and Jean Sutton Macdonald-Wright Estate, in its entirety. Finished in the 1960s during the artist’s residency at a Buddhist monastery in Kyoto, the portfolio was influenced by Macdonald-Wright’s observations of haiku tradition and its development across three centuries of Japan’s modernization.
Although perhaps not his best-known work, this portfolio is critical for understanding Macdonald-Wright’s development as an artist. Raised in Santa Monica, California, Macdonald-Wright later moved to Paris and New York to promote his aesthetic philosophy, Synchromism. This theory attempted to map music theory—or in the case of this portfolio, poetics—onto color theory and create, in effect, symphonies of color. In this portfolio, however, the abstract flourishes of Synchromism often take a back seat to the representational objectivity of the haiku tradition.