Posts Tagged ‘Bonsai Art’
Posted in Uncategorized, tagged Bonsai Art, Bonsai Focus, David Benevente, Marc Noelanders, Mauro Stemberger, Michael Tran, Noelanders Trophy, Peter Warren, Ryan Neil on January 24, 2013 | 15 Comments »
I just came back from a European tour and wish to share some of the wonderful energy I saw over there. I did a workshop and photo shoot in Germany, went to see the Noelanders Trophy in Belgium, and worked out an article about the Portland Bonsai Village for Bonsai Focus at their studio in The Hague. And I went to see two operas in Vienna with my aunt. Long trip, but I’ll be posting the bonsai parts of it on the blog in parts over the next week-
It was great to talk with some of the bright lights of the European bonsai world, including David Benevente, Peter Warren, Marc Noelanders, and Mauro Stemberger, and also some of the upcoming artists of the next generation like Michael Tran. Thanks to my friends from the magazines Bonsai Art (Ivo, Tom, Stephan) and Bonsai Focus (Farrand, Rene), and the bonsai studio Bonsai Centrum (Ingo and Wolfgang) all of whom made this trip a delight. Most especially thanks to Heike van Gunst who put together the German leg of the trip. (Heike was the translator of my book Post-Dated into German, which was run as a serial in Bonsai Art magazine; it was very nice to meet her in person.) So it was a great trip to meet some of today’s most wonderful artists, and to also personally thank those who have been working with me virtually on the web for some time now-
It was great fun to be with Ryan Neil for the last part of this trip at Bonsai Focus where he was doing a photo shoot (I did not document that out of respect for Farrand and Rene who will be sharing that in their magazine soon!) So the trip ended up as yet another Portland Bonsai Village experience—thanks, Ryan, once again for being such a sociable and fun companion and for sharing bonsai thoughts about the show, and seeing how it compares to our ideas for the Artisans Cup in Portland this October-
For starters, here’s some photos of some of my favorite trees in the Noelanders Trophy this past weekend, along with some of the more playful elements that make it such a delightful as well as serious show to attend:
When I was in graduate school learning ceramics, a friend of mine asked our sculpture teacher when he was demonstrating assembling a work with clay slabs, sticks, and coils, ‘When you’re making those decisions, what are you thinking?’ The teacher paused and replied simply, ‘I’m not thinking at all.’ And he looked at us and carefully warned us of creating and analyzing at the same time, ‘You’ll fail at that. It’s the worst trap of all, thinking while making.’
Well, that sounded like weird stuff to us. Why would we want to turn off the negotiating mind, telling us what’s right and what’s not? Only years later his advice makes a lot of sense. I’ve spent the last twenty five years meandering through various arts like painting, sculpting, making pots, and now creating bonsai—and in all of these visual endeavors, thinking was only useful after the work was done and the hands fell to my sides. Then I could begin to assess.
♦ A drumbeat, a poem, a dance, or a tree are not problems to solve. They are feelings expressed.
Artistic creation is an act of feeling. Putting a feeling into some other form. Probably the most challenging of arts use words, like poetry. Because, with words, we naturally get rather literal and think of ‘flower petals’ or ‘mongoose’ or ‘watch out!’ (for the mongoose) or whatever words the poet is using. The poet jostles words together to form not the thought but the feeling that cannot be really reached with a straightforward, ‘These words mean what I say.’ Poetry is not problem solving, not mathematics. And yet we often make that same literal mistake with bonsai.
♦ The tight skin of a drum speaks not of skin.
In bonsai we have hurdles that waylay us in expression. It is especially difficult because bonsai is a ‘traditional art’—two words which nearly contradict each other. We are taught that to make a tree a bonsai it must have a certain arrangement of branches in relation to the trunk, that without the proper order it is not a good bonsai. We are taught that a radial root system is preferred. That the trunk should taper upwards. Etc. These are our tools, the craft of bonsai. And yes, they’re all valid. And yet interestingly, the older the tree, such as truly antique collected conifers, the less these rules apply and the more open we need to be to exception, acceptance, expression and feeling. The guidelines of bonsai are useful. They also trip us up and can misguide us, especially with older trees. They keep us thinking, organizing with our minds, critical. The older the stock, the more we have to approach the work as a poet who jostles words around. Only we’re jostling branches. Deadwood. Inclination of trunk.
♦ What was built by the body is a challenge to the mind.
Another mistake I think we tend to make with trees is working too fast on them. Not that the manipulation is too fast, but that the ‘Forward ho!’ intention is too abrupt. Sit with your tree. Sometimes for a year or more. Feel out the possibilities. What is the trunk resonating in you? Where should the branches go? Lay out all the directions as if from a compass in your body (not your mind) and one direction will eventually keep rising above the rest. When you begin working this way, like my sculptor teacher, you too may not be able to put into words why you chose that way over another, because you weren’t really thinking about it. You felt your way there. And you might find, as the drummer and poet, that the body has a keen understanding that is inaccessible to our mental apparatus.
♦ A successful, evocative bonsai does not solve anything. It deepens the mystery.
A big part of being creative in the visual arts is to open the eyes without engaging the mind, too. It is easier sometimes to close the eyes. Sadly, we cannot easily do this, although I often think blind people would make wonderful bonsai.
The wry contradiction is that bonsai is about vision, yet when we look with our eyes we begin, unfortunately, to think. As bonsai artists, you are charged with the sleight of hand of opening the eyes without that voice behind them, directing, criticizing, analyzing.
Just open them.
(This post is Part II of a series. See also, The Hook To Hang Our Hat On: Part I)
Last year my book Post-Dated: The Schooling of an Irreverent Bonsai Monk was translated and featured in the German bonsai magazine, Bonsai Art. Bonsai Art is similar to Bonsai Focus. The book was translated by Heike van Gunst and serialized in the magazine over eight installments in 2010.
I’ve discovered that many ‘books’ used to be serialized first in magazines, before making a real book of the manuscript. Most of the Dickens novels were serialized, with chapters published weekly. Anyway, it seems I’ve done this backwards… but it was great fun and I thank Heike for her translation, and Bonsai Art head editor Ivo Druge for his support of the project.
In more recent news, there are Portuguese and Spanish book versions in the works.
If you’re unfamiliar with my book, check out the Book: Post-Dated page.