Sunday, February 2, 2014

The Fairy Tale Bonsai Style

The Fairy Tale Bonsai Style (FTS)
by Walter Pall

When the International Bonsai Academy was at Sebastijan Sandev's place in summer of 2o13 Sebastijan and I noticed that our ideas about styling some trees were so far away from standard bonsai that we better call it something else.

This is how this all came abut:

"And Sarah and John left their home in the afternoon because their mother had told them that she could not feed them anymore and would sell them to the rich farmers who would keep them like slaves. So the children walked away into the woods holding their hands. They went deeper and deeper into the forest and became quite afraid. It was getting dark and the forest made it even darker. The children felt without protection against all the wild animals and the ghosts and the evil ones. They became very tired and finally saw this enormous tree from far away. They were scared of the size, the mighty trunk and the branches which were so thick like other trees and moved into all directions like an octopus. They almost did not dare to get closer. But since they had no choice they finally arrived at the tree, which was even mightier than it had looked before. And they crawled over the enormous roots and found this crevice in the trunk which was large enough for both of them to enter. There they felt safe and fell asleep. Then at midnight they woke up because the tree spoke in a deep, gentle voice to them and asked them to crawl out. He wanted to show them the forest and introduce them to all the animals and to the other trees. And Sarah and Joe knew they were in a save place and loved the tree. From then on trees meant something very special to them."

This is the trees that we try to create. It has not much to do with what bonsai normally is other than that it is in a container, often not even in a pot. It is mighty, spooky, grotesque, appearing monstrous but being very warm and friendly, a tree that it so ugly that it is beautiful again. He does not know that he is ugly, and he does not care. Much more important is friendship and shelter for many. It is a giving tree, a very soft core in a very hard shell.

How does one go about creating tree in the FTS? First the material is most important. It does not make sense in general to force whatever form and style one is determined to create onto any piece of material. The tree will tell you what it wants to become. What one gets as bonsai material in general is not suitable for this kind of style, it usually is suitable to become a standard bonsai. But the 'impossible' material, the monstrous collected tree which has so many options but not a single 'good' one, the last dog, they can well be good material for the FTS. One of the great advantages of this style actually is that otherwise worthless material can be used for great results. But this is not the real reason to work in this style. Some will spread the word though that it is and we should ignore them. They won't get it, anyway. There must be something in this chaotic tree that you see which makes some sense. But sense in a fairy tale way and not in a bonsai way. It can be a monstrous nebari, or very strangely growing branches, or huge wounds which could be spooky hollows.

Here some bonsai in the FTS:

What's the difference between the FTS and the naturalistic Style? First let's see what they have in common. Both are controversial. This is a given if something threatens the bonsai establishment. Both are here since a long time already, but hardly noticed. The Chinese have done naturalistic and fairy tale trees since a very long time. Both seem to be easy, but are more difficult to do well than a so called classical bonsai in the neoclassical bonsai style. Both are striving to create a tree and absolutely not a typical bonsai. Both want to give the tree a soul so that it can speak.
Now the differences. While in the naturalistic style one usually tries to create something beautiful this is not the object in the FTS. There one tries to create something, impressive, unique, dominating in a nice way.

This all is in the very beginning and there will be many more examples. This is only to start the discussions.

Here some more images of trees in nature that could be the model for us:


JK said...

So who said what is bonsai?! It is necessary to know what is bonsai or is there a deeper sense of rules to bonsai? Does any plant know about classification? What is bonsai about? Is it about trees or man? Bonsai is to step back and fell true beauty and there cant be rules within true beauty just different opinions. A tree is a tree nothing else, and is there a vital mind in a bonsai? Hard to imagine, so why imagine at all. There is nothing.

bonsaihunters said...

Fairy tail trees are magical!

Crust said...

I can hear the trees speaking
I hear what they say
As they lean over brook
Or in winds as they sway
As they gather in gently
I strain to their song
But from the beasts of the forest
It comes the most strong
From the hulking dark arms
And trunks like a house
Who’s goiterous boils
Surely evil espouse
From those are the whispers
That chills me so deep
And keeps me awake
Never to sleep

Austin C. said...

Great article Walter! It makes a lot of sense. I'll be sharing this with my local club.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much. I truly enjoyed this post and learned from it.

Anonymous said...

Sarah and John enter the tree...
Sarah and Joe exit the tree.

DaveKirkland said...

"Both (styles) want to give the tree a soul so that it can speak"

As with any artform, the value of the best examples lies in their power to communicate emotion.

I just wish I had the ability to make my trees speak as loudly as yours Walter!

bonsai mohegan said...

Awesome tale Mr. Pall! Thank you for sharing where you gather inspiration. Creating to provoke feelings rather than self-glorification. Not many do this, and the few that do,seldom share. Keep it up. You keep the trees alive, and they will keep you alive! Joseph

bonsai mohegan said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Thomas Longfellow said...

Well done Walter. Reinforcement for the open minded and a poke in the eye to the fundamentalists. Always a winning fairy tale in my book.

Anonymous said...

The mark of great artists across many mediums has been his or her ability to redefine a style and work it obsessively, despite whatever the pre-established definition is; we have a great artist here, and he is telling us there's a new style in town. A bitter old man might complain about the silly ideas from an unruly mind. True admirers of the art will watch and see where this goes...

Just my two cents...

bottasegreta said...

If you have bad coniferous material ("the trunk is too narrow, there is not enough taper, too little nebari, foliage too far from the trunk") but you can bend the branches into a nice shape, you just say, "well this is bunjin." But some might say, "that is not bonsai, that is 'a stick in a pot'. You can style but you can't cultivate, and true bonsai is a marriage between the two, the art and the horticulture. Not every piece of material is suitable for bonsai. Etc, etc." Now we go to the other extreme. Trunk is too thick, too much or incorrect taper, too much or unsightly nebari. Well we can cultivate fine twigging on the entire tree and now it is FTS. Maybe now some people will say, "that is not bonsai, that is "a stump with twigs. You can cultivate but you can't style. Bonsai is a marriage between the two. Etc, etc." Will FTS become the "bunjin" of poor decidous material? Does it matter, do we care? I don't know, just an observation. (I like it.)

Anonymous said...

I remember when I saw my first Bonsai trees. My first thought was "I want one of these" I didn't know the rules yet, but I was just drawn in by something that made me apprecaite the art behind it. However when I see the FTS examples my first thought is "I want to go there"! They have this way of making your look past your established views of good bonsai and make you contimplate there story. If one can replicate what nature can never duplicate then he is an artist indeed!

Kennet De Bondt said...

Traditional trees might get afraid: the Ents are going to war...