Western or Japanese bonsai ?

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Western or Japanese bonsai ?

Post  Kalogero on Fri Aug 20, 2010 10:43 am

Hi ,
I don't know where to post this so excuse me if it's in the wrong section.
Do you think that bonsai must be shaped only by the japanese codes or there could be a kind of "western" bonsai, based on japanese rules but shaped in a more naturalistic way ? So for you, like French artist François Jeker wrote in an article, is bonsai only Japanese ?

Kind regards
Kalo

P.S. : All apologises for my bad english, I have not trained it for many years !

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Re: Western or Japanese bonsai ?

Post  Billy M. Rhodes on Fri Aug 20, 2010 2:28 pm

Since many of use trees that the Japanese never heard of (especially here in Florida and other warm/tropical climates) I think there is without question a Western style using general artistic principles that are more universal than just Japanese.

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Re: Western or Japanese bonsai ?

Post  JimLewis on Fri Aug 20, 2010 2:44 pm

I think it is generally accepted now that several "nationalistic" styles of bonsai are evolving and at least somewhat because of what Billy says, bonsaiests from various countries are using their own trees and are developing them in the styles they see those trees growing in the landscapes around them.

Walter Pall has an almost-famous essay about the "Naturalistic" style of bonsai -- growing the trees into the shapes THEY want, not forcing them ito preconceived shapes. I'm sure it is on his blog somewhere -- http://walter-pall-bonsai.blogspot.com/ -- but as I said elsewhere, I haven't the time (or inclination) to do blogs.

Still many western bonsaiests do slavishly follow the latest Japanese bonsai fashions. Japanese trees seem to me to be moving farther and farther away from any remote relationship to what Mother Nature grows -- darned close (IMHO) to topiary in some respects.

In the end, I suppose, it is whatever YOU want to do with your trees. You don't need to belong to a distinctive Japanese school, a Kimura school, a naturalistic school, an Italian school, etc.

Attend your own classes in your own school.

Take a look at Charles Ceronio's "Bonsai Styles of the World." http://www.stonelantern.com/Bonsai_Styles_of_the_World_p/b1styles.htm

And Brent has something to say about various "styles" here: http://www.evergreengardenworks.com/stylesbr.htm

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Re: Western or Japanese bonsai ?

Post  Kalogero on Fri Aug 20, 2010 2:54 pm

Thanks for your replies,
my point of view is exactly the same as yours in fact. I was just asking the question 'cause I see on many forums some debates about following the japanese school "slavishly" (according to Jim) or try to create a European (in my case) or more generaly a western school with our natives trees. Some japanese masters say that japanese bonsai is "dying" or "rotting" because of the very strict codes and that maybe western enthusiasts may save our hobby with a new vision, a fresh vision.

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Re: Western or Japanese bonsai ?

Post  PaulH on Fri Aug 20, 2010 3:26 pm

Check out Peter Adam's article in the last issue of "Golden Statements" (available on-line at GSBF.com ). The Subject is my friend Greg's huge California Valley Oak, Quercus lobata, styled in what Peter calls "American style"
Paul

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Re: Western or Japanese bonsai ?

Post  AlainK on Fri Aug 20, 2010 3:42 pm

I believe that there are self-evident "rules" that one must follow if they want their trees to suggest an emotion to the viewer, but I also think that styles is more a question of the personality of the people who train small trees into bonsai than strict codes.

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Re: Western or Japanese bonsai ?

Post  Kalogero on Fri Aug 20, 2010 3:47 pm

I'm agree with you Alain. First, we have to learn the rules and only after you can break them to create something in relation with who you are and not only make bonsai with the regular japanese helmet !

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Re: Western or Japanese bonsai ?

Post  Mike Jones on Fri Aug 20, 2010 7:14 pm

Its a good question.

For me, I follow what looks right first, in other words, pleasing to my own eye (after all it is me that sees them more than anyone). For many of my trees I try hard to recreate something I have seen in the wild. With Scots Pine (one of my favourites) I find it quite simple to replicate a full grown tree in miniature. Thus I suppose I would not follow a set pattern et al, but have a clean looking tree that was as balanced as possible...to my eyes anyway.

With my Japanese White Pines, I would try to follow a set of guidelines - but as is the case so often I find myself in, I end up doing what works for me. Then again, I am merly a rank amatuer just enjoying my passion for Bonsai without getting too hung about what is right or wrong. Just my opinion of course.

Mike

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Re: Western or Japanese bonsai ?

Post  Orion on Sat Aug 21, 2010 3:18 pm

I have forgotten where I heard this passage, but someone once stated that the art of bonsai is similar to learning how to write. You know when we are young we are taught the proper way of constructing the letters and then we move into writing cursive where we are taught the correct method. There then comes the time when we take on our own distinct form of writing that reflect who we are as individuals. Just like we can at times identify a persons signature, or even in the example of Oriental caligraphy, by certain nuances and style. The individual who made this statement has, I think, a very clear understanding of how this (bonsai) works as a form of art.

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Re: Western or Japanese bonsai ?

Post  John Quinn on Sat Aug 21, 2010 3:24 pm

So, is this 'Western' or 'Japanese'? Cool


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Re: Western or Japanese bonsai ?

Post  Orion on Sat Aug 21, 2010 4:15 pm

First of all it is stunning work. Second, to me, it seems to be a Western take on Chinese concept.

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Western or Japanese?

Post  Robert J. Baran on Sat Aug 21, 2010 4:39 pm

See also the Introduction "Bonsai as a Western Art" to Colin Lewis' The Art of Bonsai Design (NY: Sterling Publishing Co., Inc.; 2001).

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Re: Western or Japanese bonsai ?

Post  JimLewis on Sat Aug 21, 2010 5:27 pm

Yes. Colin makes excellent points in his essay. I think it is (or was) also on his website.

That slanting thing is by Kimura, if I recall rightly, so it is "Japanese." It is NOT, however, typical Japanese.

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Re: Western or Japanese bonsai ?

Post  Kalogero on Mon Aug 23, 2010 9:17 am

But Kimura is really not the most traditional japanese master (even if his private collection is very traditionnal). The more I see trees by japanese masters,often very far from the traditionnal bonsai, the more I think that a lot of enthusiasts try to be more japanese than the japanese themselves. Very strange. By the way, even if we study the japanese culture, western people will never be able to fully understand what lies underneath this culture. That's why it's better to do bonsai the way we feel it.

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Re: Western or Japanese bonsai ?

Post  my nellie on Mon Aug 23, 2010 9:36 am

Kalogero wrote: ... .... By the way, even if we study the japanese culture, western people will never be able to fully understand what lies underneath this culture. ... ...
I strongly agree with this!
I being a Greek i.e. being of an oriental mentality more than a western/occidental can see this happening in many more aspects than bonsai.
It's has to do with our dna, I believe... Rolling Eyes
And sure I feel closer to japanese bonsai than western Very Happy

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Re: Western or Japanese bonsai ?

Post  Guest on Mon Aug 23, 2010 10:29 am

There are differences between Japan and China, between Italy and Denmark, between US and Spain - the same goes for Kimura and Kato and so on... we all make it in our on personal way regardless which style we try to aim at.

We have different trees growing in each of our countries, and available material is different to each region we live in. That gives different results.
We have different backgrounds, cultures, taste in pots i.e. Gives different results too.

For me there are not at specific western style in contradiction to the Japanese style. There are western bonsai not worked on in detail as the Japanese do, and they are often referred to as western style bonsai. But I believe for this part it is more the difference in how well these trees are done rather than the style.

Regards
Morten

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Re: Western or Japanese bonsai ?

Post  jgeanangel on Mon Aug 23, 2010 10:56 am

Morten Albek wrote:

For me there are not at specific western style in contradiction to the Japanese style. There are western bonsai not worked on in detail as the Japanese do, and they are often referred to as western style bonsai. But I believe for this part it is more the difference in how well these trees are done rather than the style.

Regards
Morten

Perhaps I am missing something here Morton, but to me this reads that Japanese trees are good and Western trees are not done as well. Before I lose respect for your opinion, I would like to offer you the opportunity to clarify your point. Since you are not Japanese, how does this statement reflect on your own trees?

John

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Re: Western or Japanese bonsai ?

Post  Guest on Mon Aug 23, 2010 12:05 pm

jgeanangel wrote:
Morten Albek wrote:

For me there are not at specific western style in contradiction to the Japanese style. There are western bonsai not worked on in detail as the Japanese do, and they are often referred to as western style bonsai. But I believe for this part it is more the difference in how well these trees are done rather than the style.

Regards
Morten

Perhaps I am missing something here Morton, but to me this reads that Japanese trees are good and Western trees are not done as well. Before I lose respect for your opinion, I would like to offer you the opportunity to clarify your point. Since you are not Japanese, how does this statement reflect on your own trees?

John

Hi John

There are more reasons to the fact that many western trees do not reach the same quality as Japanese bonsai (generally speaking). One is the time frame. Bonsai in the west is still young, and we do not work the same way as the Japanese do. Bonsai in Japan has very long traditions, and trees has been worked on for generations. That we still waits for here.
Next. Professionals are taking care of developing, styling and caring for the best bonsai in Japan. In the west this is done merely by enthusiasts. That gives the Japanese bonsai an advantage. But you might surely be able to find top bonsai at the same level. My opinion is general, because it is impossible to take all angels into account in discussions and opinions like this one, and there are of course trees that reach that level. They are just few I believe.
I have traveled in Japan a number of times, as well as seen many exhibitions in Europe, and what I see is what I express here.

My own bonsai. I look forward to the day when some of my shohin comes hopefully just close to the best Japanese shohin-bonsai, if that day ever happens. I am an enthusiast, and take care of everything regarding my bonsai. I do not put them in a professional Japanese nursery, and therefore it might take longer time for me to reach this goal. I need at least five to ten more years to see my best trees hit that level. Maybe they wont. Maybe it takes longer. Maybe it does not happen in my lifetime. I hope it does.

I do not, like the majority of enthusiasts, have a lot of money to invest in top quality trees. I buy cheap pre-bonsai but mostly I start from raw garden or common nursery material. Therefore the travel is long (but very joyful). I use a lot of time working with my trees, study and learn. But I am not as talented as Mario or other people who have learned their techniques in japan and are very talented too. And as mentioned all ready, I do not start my trees at a high level, because that's too expensive to buy. Instead I truly enjoy making my bonsai this way. It gives meaning to me. But that also explains why the Japanese bonsai of course still is ahead of most of us. We will get there. Time is all it takes.

I hope you understand my point of view.

Best regards
Morten

So i do hope my explanation gives meaning. And I do think it is nescessary to face realities. The travel onwards is it all worth. Very Happy

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Re: Western or Japanese bonsai ?

Post  my nellie on Mon Aug 23, 2010 1:00 pm

Morten Albek wrote: ... ... ...
So i do hope my explanation gives meaning. And I do think it is nescessary to face realities. The travel onwards is it all worth. Very Happy
Dear Mr. Morten Albek, Sir, and everybody who read and will be reading this thread, let me devote to you some verse from a wellknown poem "Ithaka", of our Greek famous poet Constantine P. Kavafy.

When you set out on your journey to Ithaca,
pray that the road is long,
full of adventure, full of knowledge.
... .... ....
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,
the fierce Poseidon you will never encounter,
if you do not carry them within your soul,
if your soul does not set them up before you.
... ... ...
Always keep Ithaca in your mind.
To arrive there is your ultimate goal.
But do not hurry the voyage at all.
... .... ....
Ithaca has given you the beautiful voyage.
Without her you would have never set out on the road.
She has nothing more to give you.

And if you find her poor, Ithaca has not deceived you.
Wise as you have become, with so much experience,
you must already have understood what Ithacas mean

Thank you for reading!

my nellie
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Re: Western or Japanese bonsai ?

Post  Orion on Mon Aug 23, 2010 3:12 pm

...and "traditional" is a relative term. Phoenix Bonsai has an outstanding database that provides numerous example of Japanese bonsai photographs from the turn of the 20th century. Take a look at these. You will see how styles popular at one time, fall out of fashion. I think the same is true today. Many contemporary bonsai artists look at this form of art in ways that many would see as deviating from traditional display concepts; they really push the limits and for that I applaud the new approaches.

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Re: Western or Japanese bonsai ?

Post  JimLewis on Mon Aug 23, 2010 3:41 pm

Morton wrote (wisely):

I start from raw garden or common nursery material. Therefore the travel is long (but very joyful).

While I tend to disagree with him that Japanese bonsai are "better" because they're worked by professionals, I agree wholeheartedly with Morton's approach to doing bonsai.

Orion makes an important observation. Bonsai in Japan 40 years ago are vastly different from bonsai in Japan today. Whether it is an improvement, is a matter of opinion. Mine is that they are not. Forty years ago, they still looked like trees.

Today, by and large, they're the same trees -- at least those you see in the major exhibits and pictured in the magazines. But they've been worked and reworked and reworked and reworked. They are so far from their origins as wild trees from the Japanese mountains (now pretty much denuded of collectible material by turn-of-the-century collectors) that their "treeness" has diminished. EVERY leaf and EVERY branch has been chosen and positioned with caliper-like pecision. They're so far from Nature that they may as well have been painted on canvas. (But they are pretty.)

I'm sure new trees are being developed in Japan now -- mostly nursery grown since collecting isn't the source of great material any more -- but you don't see them in the major exhibits yet. This is probably because they still have a bit of treeness -- wildness -- in them, and the pros have to get rid of that.

Western trees seem to hang onto their natural history (even if the history is "faked" onto a nursery plant).

I'm sure everyone disagrees.

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Re: Western or Japanese bonsai ?

Post  Mike Jones on Mon Aug 23, 2010 3:46 pm

Actually no Jim, I don't... with most of it anyway.

Mike

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Re: Western or Japanese bonsai ?

Post  Kalogero on Mon Aug 23, 2010 3:50 pm

Totally agree with you Jim. Japanese trees are so perfect that I'm not sure that I'm watchin a real tree. But, on the other side of the coin, I'm really impressed by this fine work, even if it's "too perfect".

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Re: Western or Japanese bonsai ?

Post  Guest on Mon Aug 23, 2010 4:20 pm

Okay. But it is not about how perfect everything is arranged I talk about. I try to be more precise.
I too find some of the Japanese trees too `perfect`. On the other hand some European bonsai misses the detailed work. Here we have a gap I think (maybe just me).
A trend in Japan right now is to loosen up more for the overdone perfect arrangement of twigs e.g.

Anyhow. Where I think time and dedicated work makes the difference, is the delicate branches with old bark nearly to the tips of them. The mass of branches forming the canopy at large bonsai. The placement of branches on the trunk, not just wired branches from one position to another to fill a gap, but slowly worked on by grafting i.e.

Last and most important. Age, not only produced by large Jins (seen in Japan too, yes) but old trees with old matured trunk with gnarled bark with mosses i.e. The wabi sabi feeling www.shohin-europe.com/ARTICLES-wabisabi.html
This comes alone by long termed work and time working for you.

I do not know why it isn't popular that I say it is so, but I may offend the feeling of those who are convinced we reached the goal already. No problem for me, I just thought it was wort a thought. Smile

Further for the thoughts. I do not think a bonsai is a pure replica of what is seen in nature, but an interpretation of that. Bonsai is not without man. The artist is part of the creation and not invisible in the bonsai creation. I don't believe in naturalistic bonsai. Í believe in bonsai art, showing the expression of tree.

Best regards
Morten

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Re: Western or Japanese bonsai ?

Post  Kalogero on Mon Aug 23, 2010 4:26 pm

Hi Morten,
with your explanations, I understand now your point of view.
But there is another point, that maybe can explain this difference between Japan and "the rest of the world". All the trees we can see in japanese expositions are mainly worked by professionnals. They spend their life working in bonsai whereas in other countries, it's just a hobby !

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Re: Western or Japanese bonsai ?

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