Bonsai friendship and wabi sabi

This blog is mostly about creating bonsai (except for that pineapple post, you should look that one up) and the incidentals and serendipitous happenings usually get just a minor mention as I ramble on in my wandering way. So I figured I might talk a bit about two of those secondary perks that come with cultivating bonsai.
Recently, I hosted the NoNaMe study group meeting at the nursery and we welcomed Jason Schley (www.schleysbonsai.com) as the guest artist.
Jason is a very talented artist and we’ve been friends for a while. We’ve had some ups and downs and misunderstandings but I think we have a solid understanding of each other now.
Not to mention I’ve recently had some treatment that he’s also experienced and our commiserating has strengthened our comradeship.
At the study group we had a pretty good turnout considering it was the Sunday before Christmas.
I didn’t get photos of everyone and every tree but I did get some of a tree I’ve been working on in the blog (A modest Chinese juniper) which I gave to him to do some detail wiring on.
Wait…stop the presses, did I just say I let another artist work on my tree? Yes.
Let’s discuss this.
When I first began bonsai I was already an artist. I had my own ideas (I still do..hahaha!) about aesthetics and artistic sensibilities.
Consequentially, I didn’t want anyone to touch my trees.
But as I’ve grown in bonsai, I’ve come to look at the art form to be more like a song than an object of art.
Ok, that’s quite a statement.
Traditionally, in the visual arts, the work of the student is considered to be that of the teachers. Even if the student or apprentice does all the work, the teacher, by custom and even law, takes credit.
But with music, you see, a song is written and there is sheet music that tells the musician how to play the song (If you’ve never learned to read music; it’s a very precise language with very precise instructions) but a good musician will take that song as written and add a portion of himself in the performance of the song and make the song more than the written tune.
With each playing and each musician the song is added to and expanded (or stripped down even)
To equate this to bonsai: a bonsai is never truly done, it is always changing and growing (hopefully it is. As they say, the only finished bonsai is a dead bonsai).
And as a tree may move from one owner and artist to another, that artist might see something slightly different and emphasize it or change the pot or planting angle or even the front. It’s the same tree but it’s being presented or even, I could say, performed upon (the tree is always changing remember) and is as impermanent as the last chord ringing out in a concert hall as the audience stands and cheers.
We bonsai artists are like musicians and it’s also like saying that a bonsai is a verb more than a noun. It is a moving thing, alive and growing. It is never the same from one day to another.
Like the old adage says “You can never swim in the same river twice”
So, just as Keith Richards is honored when Eric Clapton plays a Stones song, it is my pleasure and my privilege to let Jason work on my tree and to watch him as he shows us what he sees in it.
To hear his story and his song.
That’s a lot of philosophy to digest before I’ve even shown you a single picture so I’ll begin with what the tree looked like after the last post.
20131224-232641.jpg
If you remember, I gave it a rough styling and bent the main trunk to give some movement to a long, straight piece.
I ended up losing the bottom left branch for some reason (probably in the rough manhandling I needed to employ in the accomplishment of that bend).
It had become quite bushy, so the first thing he did was clean it up some and then he broke out the #1 wire and commenced wiring
20131225-110016.jpg
20131225-110048.jpg
At the end of the blogpost I had shown a drawing of what I saw the tree looking like in the future.
Here’s that drawing:
20131225-110305.jpg
And here is his work.
20131225-110455.jpg
Pretty good.
The same tree,but his style and mine are different.
Like a Monet and a Manet.
He’s a little bit Country, I’m a little bit Rock n’ Roll.
And the tree will grow, and change, and I’ll work on it again, or maybe another friend will, or someone will buy it and change the front or the planting angle; that’s the beauty of it.
It is a transient beauty that we, as bonsai artists, chase and try to capture with our work. And act as custodians to.
Which brings us to the slippery idea of “wabi sabi”.
Sounds like a strip mall sushi joint, right?
It is an Asian and Japanese aesthetic principle that is sometimes tough to define.
It means many things; bittersweet, sweet and sour, flawed beauty; it’s a concept where a mar or an imperfection adds instead of takes away from beauty.
Or that one should cherish beauty because it won’t last, like autumn leaves or flowers.
Bare, untreated wood aging, through the years, is wabi sabi.
It’s a tough thing to define.
It’s easier to give examples than it is to define it.
Flawed, ethereal, imperfect, transient, incomplete……
There are whole books written on it, hopefully my inadequate explanation leads you to some further research into what wabi sabi is.
As I’ve been watering my bonsai (hand watering by the way) I’ve noticed this weed that’s been growing in a ficus salicaria.
The tree is actually my daughters that I’ve been acting as a guardian of for several years now. I could claim the tree as my own, but I think of it as hers so, therefore, it is.
In my collection, I will sometimes let weeds grow just to see what they are.
You never know what could happen, right?
Anyway, it looked to me that it was perhaps a Mexican petunia seedling (ruellia brittoniana), which I have growing wild in the yard (they are actually considered invasive now in Florida). I let it grow because they were sold with a purple flower and they’ve hybridized somehow and some of them have pink flowers now.
I let it grow to see what would happen next.
But, about three weeks ago, I was in Rob Kempinski’s yard and he pointed out this rare and delicate….plant, that is usually overlooked because it is so small and easily lost in the jungle that is Florida. He told me what it was but I can’t remember. Perhaps there is someone who can help out. Although I don’t need to know to appreciate it.
When I got home and got to looking at this weed in my garden, I finally made the connection. It was the same plant as the one at Rob’s house.
Cool.
So I let it go, to see what happened.
Here is the tree:
20131225-170830.jpg
I gave it a little wire and cleaned it up a bit.
Here’s the weed:
20131225-171407.jpg
The ensemble:
20131225-171505.jpg
The weed is an annual and one never knows where it will show up next. I hope it makes an appearance next year. But if not, I’ve had the time with it this year to remember.
It’s appearance was truly an unexpected treat this holiday season.
Thanks again to Jason for coming to the study group, we hope to see you soon.
Happy holidays my friends!

About adamaskwhy

Visual artist specializing in bonsai, mostly.
This entry was posted in philosophical rant, rare finds, styling bonsai and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Bonsai friendship and wabi sabi

  1. Thanks for helping me learn the ‘rules’ of bonsai, then giving me permission to do it the way that appeals to me. Fine line, but without knowing HOW, I would never know the WHY.

  2. Joe says:

    Great post Adam. Thanks!

  3. My wabi sabi christmas this year was the best ever! Thanks! Have a wabi sabi christmas this year! Adam, you’re the best!

  4. japanesepots says:

    Good post. It’s a little different here, because we are so young, as are our trees, but in Japan this concept is much more intensified. While this juniper may have had 3 or 4 people work it as a bonsai in it’s life; “ownership” and “creation” ideas are much more intense when the bonsai has had 20, 30, or 40 owners and professionals work it in its lifetime.
    Famous anecdote: bonsai pro buys Chinese quince for 600,000¥. Cuts off all branches, leaving bare trunk. The tree Wins Kokufu 7 years later. Who won, the creator of the trunk, or the branches? The tree? Technique? These ideas are murky, and thankfully disappearing in the west. Good on you for helping to further that along. Egos and ownership do not matter. All that matters is the quality of the tree.

  5. Tina says:

    Thank you for all the wonderful posts you make here! I really enjoy reading them! I truly like your attitude and the art you create! Especially the OMG, he did what? moments! Happy Holidays! May your year be filled with happiness and contentment

  6. Jim Trenter says:

    Question about soils. How is the DE working out for your trees. Since Turface of late has been seriously maligned as a soli component and pumice is the new ‘IN’ component to use but hard to obtain here locally and expensive to ship I was looking for an alternative. We have O’Rielly AP here in the frigid State of MN. Thanks

    • adamaskwhy says:

      The DE is working out well, when it’s watered it’s not that ghastly white color.
      That’s one negative with pumice I have. The color. It’s white too.
      To insert myself into the debate with Turface I’ll just say a few things.
      Hydrophobic means that if a particle becomes dry and you put water on it, the water beads up and the particle does not absorb it.
      And if one dismisses the nutrient absorption properties of a component out of hand as being unimportant to the debate that is called confirmation bias.
      This is what I have to say. If a soil works for you, use it and everything else be damned

      • Jim Trenter says:

        Thank You. I share your feelings about soils. I also am a Turface distributor here in MN and my price for the material is definitely right. Have grown only tropical bonsai here since 1990. Enjoy your sight. Keep writing. I am going to try DE this summer if it ever comes. We are -10 at this moment.

    • Chris Lewis says:

      Jim, there is a NAPA AP in Spring Lake Park, MN last I known.

  7. John says:

    The weed is the common lawn orchid, Zeuxine Strateumatica, a species introduced in grass seed. Some years I get tons of them in the grass and flower beds, some years not so many.

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