Author Topic: Bonsai Deconstructed  (Read 49983 times)

akeppler

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Bonsai Deconstructed
« on: June 21, 2009, 12:16 AM »
 Bonsai Deconstructed

This subject has been talked about from time to time and I thought it time to visit it under different circumstances.

I will preface this essay with one small caveat. When in the future I speak of the “West”, I am not meaning to include Europe in this context. I am speaking of the West to mean America exclusively. Why not Europe? Because Europe for the most part gets Bonsai. It is viewed as an art form, and is judged on the trees merits and not the maker, exhibitor, owner.

 Bonsai when displayed is meant to be enjoyed. It is not meant to be deconstructed to the point of exhaustion. Bonsai are to be revered and taken in with a spiritual quality as any painting or sculpture. For the most part bonsai are divided into two categories. Those designed and styled by their owners or bonsai bought in a near finished state and kept by a collector. There are gray areas between the two but detailing that is akin to why I am addressing this issue. There is only one way to enjoy bonsai when displayed. That is to look and feel the bonsai, not deconstruct it. As soon as deconstruction starts the bonsai has been minimized to basic elements like trunk line and branch structure and ramification and all those small elements that go into making bonsai. We lose site of what is really great about the tree and seem to zero in on all it’s flaws. The flaws are what make a bonsai unique and special, not fodder to distract the eye from the story being told.

Our club has a judged exhibit during the fair. They are entered as “styled” or “acquired”. When two trees are exhibited in a class and  two trees tie, the ribbon is awarded to the styled tree rather than the acquired tree. I feel that there must be a better way to determine a winner rather than falling back on this small detail. Who did the work is immaterial when it comes to judging a tree. Since this is a fair and the purpose is to showcase “owners work” we have never taken issue with this method. If this was an outright contest and the “trees” were being judged, I would assume the judge would come to a better conclusion than this method.

A display of bonsai should be a time for looking at what was done right. I have been doing bonsai for over 25 years and I can tell you that the first 15 years were spent with trying to make tunuki’s, strip all the bark off in an effort to make a 5 gallon procumbens look 500 years old, and build a collection out of 100 crappy nursery trees that would never be anything because of poor nebari and trunk lines. It was not until I started to really travel the state and seek out the best trees in the state to study and appreciate. Out of this appreciation came the opening of the mind to how certain things were done. I was able to see close up how branches were manipulated to fill voids on the trunk with no branches, how carving the trunk in the right places added the needed taper that was not there before. Seeing this up close and with the needed time to really ingrain it into my brain became my apprenticeship in bonsai technique. I could read a thousand books and would have never seen the way the techniques in the book really work without seeing the finished process up close and personnel.

It is OK to go to an exhibit and think what you would have done different. It is OK to deconstruct bonsai and put it back together in your own mind with a different purpose and feeling. Of course the tree is not your and will never be in a position for you to change, so why not look at the tree and it’s positives and see how those might be put to use on your own trees. Start your apprenticeship on the cheap and grow with bonsai. It all can be found at the exhibit.

On another forum, I posted pictures of the recent Toko-Kazari in Hanford California at the Clark Center for Japanese Art. While the pictures were well received I asked for the “what was good and what was bad”. I mostly got the what was bad. I was a little disappointed that many did not find more things that were done well and appreciated that to a greater degree. I feel the idea about display was missed. I will take the opportunity to repost the images here as well as the artists and the titles so they can be better appreciated.

(ed. Note. I have been informed that a book of photos as well as artists notes about their inspiration and meaning for the display will be available soon at $20.00 a copy. Many of my photos may be there, I have not received confirmation yet.)

Let’s take a new look at the first annual Toko-Kazari
 
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akeppler

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Re: Bonsai Deconstructed
« Reply #1 on: June 21, 2009, 12:21 AM »
First Place
Jim Gremel

"Serenity"


This composition of a cascade Blue atlas cedar was one of the best displays I have ever seen. At first I didn't get the moon scroll and when I watched Jim set up the display which was next to mine, I though "oh boy Jim you really blew the season on this one". Then later when I studied it more I began to remember when I was a kid I would see clouds in the summer at dusk that would obscure the moon while I was trying to watch with a telesope. I would cuss those clouds for moving in and out of my pristine view.

Jim took me back to that time and stole my 2500.00 bucks.
 

akeppler

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Re: Bonsai Deconstructed
« Reply #2 on: June 21, 2009, 12:29 AM »
Second Place
Hideko Metaxis

"Feel as you wish"

This display is very religious. The tall stand places the tree in very high reverence. The Gingko tree is the guard of the Temple shrine, while the Kanon, Goddes of mercy watches the door of the shrine. The scroll of Kanji reads "kan ge sai (sp) or "Feel as you wish" or "look into yourself". A very nice display with everything in its place as only Hideko can do.

I might add that displays like this can only be appreciated when one understands all the things that each item represents. I must confess it was not my favorite staright away because I did not understand the meanings of the pieces. Once known, it all makes sense. So is the way of Kei-do*.




* Kei-do the only school for formal Tokonoma display in Japan.
 

akeppler

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Re: Bonsai Deconstructed
« Reply #3 on: June 21, 2009, 12:37 AM »
Third Place
Ted Matson

" Sierra Reflection"

I was most happy about this piece. For one I have respected Ted for many years and work with him 8 times a year. I was also very happy to see him recieve these very nice accolades for decades of years  of service to the bonsai comunnity.

At first glance this piece is disconnected. The scroll is very high in the display. This could only be acheieved by the fact that the ceiling in the museum was tall enough to give us the freedom to make these presentations. Ted's inspiration for this was a waterfall plunging many feet into a pool below supporting a small conifer forest in the mist. It is very easy to see the inspiration and I think it was very well executed. I feel it totaly and will provide a photo of what I feel Ted was trying to say.
 

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Re: Bonsai Deconstructed
« Reply #4 on: June 21, 2009, 12:42 AM »
Fourth Place
John Wang

"Hein Spring"

This display is all about the dance of spring. The focus was on fans. The trees are in the shape of a fan and the scroll depicts a fan and the dancer accessory depitcs a fan dancer. While the redundancy of the fan is executed here and would normally be a fault, the interplay of all the lements was making them all work, which they did. John was the most complex person I ever met. He agonized over this display for two hours tring to get it just right. He had as many as 5 scrolls spread over the floor of the museum trying to get the right mood.
 

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Re: Bonsai Deconstructed
« Reply #5 on: June 21, 2009, 12:49 AM »
Fifth Place
Charles Nelson

"High Sierra"

Chuck nelson lives aout 1/2 mile from my home. We share bonsai as very good friends, almost brothers in the art. Chuck was very hesitant when I asked him to display a piece in our Kazari, he did not feel that he had the chops to succeed.

Chuck built the stand, with my help, for the tree. He did not spend alot on wood so decided to paint the stand. I think it worked adding a sharp contrast to the bleached wood of the great formal upright C. juniper. He dug that juniper with Harry Hirao 35 years ago. The waterfall scroll was ordered from Japan and was dilivered the week before the event.Talk about timing.
I think the composition was very good and my only criticism of the piece was that the accent was on a stone. I also did not like the domestic flowers in the accent and would like to have seen some alpine weeds.
 

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Re: Bonsai Deconstructed
« Reply #6 on: June 21, 2009, 12:55 AM »
Sixth Place
Kenji Miyata

"Cloudy Design"

This piece was a very evocative piece. It makes very good use of "white space". The nana juniper is the finest I have ever seen and is displayed on an antique Japanese stand worth more than all the trees in the museum. The small maple tree used for a accent tree is very well done. Kenji chose a more rustic, not overyl manicured maple tree on purpose. The accent tree must not compete for attention and lend support. This it does masterfully. The scroll is unusal being fired tiles put together on a plank holder. I did not get a close up but it depicts a cloudy scene along a Japanese river.
 

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Re: Bonsai Deconstructed
« Reply #7 on: June 21, 2009, 01:01 AM »
Sixth Place (tie)
Seiji Shiba

"Serene Feeling"

I have seen Seiji's C. juniper many times around the state. I have never seen it in this type setting. It is a very large tree being nearly 45 inches tall and a trunk as thick as your thigh. The branches are marvelous and it provokes thought when it is seen. being possibly a 1000 years old it was around when the Anazazi indians ruled the southwest, and Mayans were ruling South America. It is too bad that there was not enough room to fully execute what Seiji had in mind, because he brought a scroll to use with this piece. Hideko told him that using the scroll would diminish the powerfull tree and to not use it. I think she was right. We will never know where it may have placed with the scroll being a very powerful tree.
« Last Edit: June 21, 2009, 01:51 AM by akeppler »
 
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akeppler

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Re: Bonsai Deconstructed
« Reply #8 on: June 21, 2009, 01:06 AM »
Eighth Place
Hanford Bonsai Society

"Crossing the River"

This piece was a filler piece that remained to be judged since it was offered by a club. Some people at the last minute cancled due to trees not looking sharp enough or things like that. Bob Hilvers and I worked together on this piece and it lacked many things to make it a top notch piece. The tree is a nana in a semi cascade form on a rock cliff. the rock offers enough vertcality to give the viewer the message that it is a cliff. The scroll depicts a fishernam in a boat going down the river. The accent is a bronze turtle that is found near these rivers.
 

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Re: Bonsai Deconstructed
« Reply #9 on: June 21, 2009, 01:19 AM »
Ninth Place
Al Keppler

"Butterflies and Barbs"

My inspiration came from drives with my wife on Sunday afternoons in spring when the foothill are carpeted with wild flowers. I live very close to the beginning or end (depending on how you look at it) of Hiway 49 the golden Hiway. This is the hiway the traversus the foothills where all the gold was found in 1849 and brought about western expansion in the USA.

Many of the fences around this area are nearly a hundred years old and the barbed wire is brittle and will break instead of bend. The fence posts are rittled with acorn holes by woodpeckers hiding their winter snack. My piece exhibits a pyracantha full of barbs with an accent piece of wild grasses and a woodpecker holed fence post with more barbs on wire. To soften the harsh barbs I selected a picture of a butterfly fliiting over the wild flowers.

The head judge felt this was the most evocative piece in the entire exhibit. Never before had he seen an accent piece so "out of the box" before. When Bob Hilvers and I set this annual affair up it was out intention to highlight more of an American flare on display. Due to Larry Ragle, (Head Judge) being classically trained in Kei-do in Japan, that is what he judged on. My piece had too many man elements in it. The fence post, the barbed wire, the domestic lilies in the scroll, and so points were deducted for that. Larry commented that had I taken the tree out and displayed the scroll and accent only I probably would have won on technical merit alone for those two pieces of art.

As a side note... being a Japanese Museum and many Japanese people attending, it was brought to my attention that five people asked about my use of barbed wire in my composition. They asked if I was trying to show peace thru the relationship of butteyfly and internment camp. On hearing this it brought goose flesh to my arms, in fact it does again as I type. To know that I stirred that type of emotion in people viewing my work when that was not even a consideration of mine was mind blowing. To me that is the essence of Bonsai display.
« Last Edit: June 21, 2009, 01:55 AM by akeppler »
 
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Re: Bonsai Deconstructed
« Reply #10 on: June 21, 2009, 01:25 AM »
Tenth Place
Peter Tea

"Summer Days"

Just before bonsaiTALK went down Vonsgarden (John Kirby) had talked of a guy in San Jose that had studied with Boon. He spoke of him as an up and comer. We invited him to participate and he did. His tree, a Bouganvilla was extraordinary. All the blossoms were the same size and distributed all over the tree. The stand was nice and accent adaquate. a small bronze snake was displayed along side the accent. I did not see this untill later and felt it may have turned off the judges being a little kitsch. Being a tree with flowers I feel that a scroll with kanji saying summer days would have really helped make this composition sparkle.
 

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Re: Bonsai Deconstructed
« Reply #11 on: June 21, 2009, 01:28 AM »
Eleventh Place
John Roehl

"Soon Shade and Rest"

This piece was very nice. Once again I did not get it at first. Someone told me that the scroll depicted noon day sun. Then it all started to make sense. The lonely Japanese wanderer is seeking the shade of the grove of elms from the blistering heat of the noonday sun. Simple and to the point....I like it.
« Last Edit: June 21, 2009, 01:56 AM by akeppler »
 

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Re: Bonsai Deconstructed
« Reply #12 on: June 21, 2009, 01:35 AM »
Twelveth Place
Katsumi Kinoshita

"Memory of Mount Fuji"

Kats is my teacher. He is an old Japanese man around 78 years old. He has had a hard life being a landscaper most of his life. This old Monterey pine used to be so much more beautiful when its lower two branches were intact. About 4 years ago something went wrong and he could not save them. They died leaving the skeletons of years past. This display depicts a time when an old man can look at a mountain and remember his youth in a land far away. Bonsai is all about provoking feeling and I can feel what he feels when I understand the language.  Back bent, and broken withered limbs but a spirit and memory to last a life time.
« Last Edit: June 21, 2009, 01:45 AM by akeppler »
 

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Re: Bonsai Deconstructed
« Reply #13 on: June 21, 2009, 01:39 AM »
Thirteenth Place
Fresno Bonsai Society

"Spring in the Sierra Nevada"

In the other forum this display garnered no discussion at all. I wondered why? Is it so perfect that no one could say anything, or was there so much wrong that no body knew where to start?

Maybe this time it will stir some discussion. I will leave it to you all.
 

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Re: Bonsai Deconstructed
« Reply #14 on: June 21, 2009, 01:43 AM »
Fourteenth Place
Fred Miyahara

"The Joy of Spring"

I have to say that of all the displays this one I did not get. I didn't get it even when I was told what it was from the artist. It is a four point display and not very well executed. The trees are the same size with neither dominating. The chojubai quince while used as an accent seems the larger of the two and that makes it all the more difficult to figure out. I didn't get the stone at all and I feel this is a case when "maybe one more piece will turn the tide in my favor" The scroll was too little and the root stand was too "over the top" for my taste.

I didn't see spring here. Maybe flowers on the quince would have changed my mind...maybe not.


Discussion...?
« Last Edit: June 21, 2009, 02:15 AM by akeppler »