Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Bonsai demonstration by Juan Llaga from Philippines

Last weekend I attended a demonstration by a Pilipino bonsai artist Juan Llaga at the Tops Weekend organised by the Illawarra Bonsai Society. As always, I really enjoyed the event, but was mildly disappointed by this year’s international demonstrator.

Images above show ‘before and after’ of the first part of his demonstration. I honestly couldn’t see the point of it. He could have used a miniature umbrella instead of a tree to achieve the same effect.  

Images below show ‘before and after’ of the second and main part of his demonstration. The forest planting assembled by Juan lacks cohesion and falls short in the following areas:
-       sub-optimal arrangement of trees in terms of their height;
-       inconsistent angles at which the trees are planted;
-       thoughtless branch arrangement; 
-       unnecessary and repetitive jins.

In the week following the demonstration, I came across something written by Ming dynasty scholar Shih T'ao. He wrote about painting trees: "The ancients were in the habit of representing trees in groups of three, five, nine or ten. They painted them in their various aspects, each according to its distinctive appearance; they blended the uneven heights of their silhouettes into a living, harmonious whole. I like painting pines, cedars, old acacias and junipers, often in groups of three of five. Like heroes performing a war dance, they display a wide variety of attitudes and gestures; some lower their heads, others raise them; some double up on themselves, others point straight and boldly upward." This passage reminded about the weaknesses in Juan Llaga's forest planting composition.

Sunday, June 09, 2019

Demonstration by Masayuki Fujikawa at Bonsai by the Harbour, Sydney

Yesterday, I attended a bonsai demonstration by Masayuki Fujikawa. He is a second generation owner of Fujikawa Hosei-en nursery in Nasushiobara. Mr. Fujikawa was a Masahiko Kimura’s apprentice for eleven years and has been an independent bonsai artist for the past ten years. He won the professional bonsai competition Saikufu-ten twice. 

During the demonstration Mr. Fujikawa came across as friendly, knowledgeable, sharing and delivered an inspiring demonstration. He did a demonstration on an oddly shaped Japanese Black Pine which had most of its branches on one side. The end result was convincing considering the limited time and the quality of the material (see before and after images above). He was interpreted by Adam Webster who is an Australian apprentice at the Yuuki-En Bonsai Nursery near Tokyo. Adam is a really nice guy and has done a great job as the interpreter.

My visit to Ha Long Bay

Bonsai often draws inspiration from traditional Chinese paintings, and many famous paintings of the Ming and Qing era are inspired by the weathered hills of Guilin in South China. These hills are karst or eroded limestone formations. I’ve never seen Guilin, but during my trip to Vietnam I got to see spectacular karst formations of Ha Long Bay. I felt that potted trees and miniature landscapes, omnipresent in Vietnam, draw a lot of inspiration from the natural wonder of Ha Long Bay.

A modern-day bonsai kōan

A Japanese friend once told me a modern-day bonsai kōan. Kōan is the Japanese word for a paradoxical anecdote or a riddle used by Zen masters to make their disciples understand something. So, here it is.

Once upon a time, during Japan’s economic boom, there was a corporation. Back in those days, companies supported employees’ recreational activities and this particular one sponsored an in-house bonsai club. The company hired a bonsai master to instruct the club members and his bonsai were displayed in the headquarters foyer. Every day, hundreds of people passed by the bonsai display, but hardly anyone took notice of it.

All good things come to an end and with the onset of economic depression the company began to cut costs. It gave the boot to the bonsai master, but asked the club to continue displaying bonsai in the foyer. The employees happily started showcasing their own work and suddenly everyone began noticing and talking about the bonsai in the foyer.  

Why do you think trees created by the bonsai master were not obvious, while bonsai trees by amateurs were conspicuous?