Bonsai tree: River Critiques: We Have Two Winners!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Bonsai tree: River Critiques: We Have Two Winners!

Way back on April 4th, we asked our readers to critique this planting (A River in India by Lew Buller, in his Saikei and Art). Now, we have two winners. First place ($25 gift certificate to Stone Lantern): Donna Lynn. Second place ($15 gift certificate): Zack Clayton. (winners can contact to find out how to get your prizes).

Lew’s charming planting is both compelling and flawed. For the contest, it’s the planting’s overly symmetrical nature that caught my attention (the two forests are almost exactly equal in mass; this contributes to a somewhat static rather than a more dynamic feel), so I decided to add extra weight to those that noticed and best expressed it. We do understand that one person’s flaw is an others perfection, but we decided to defer to a classical design perspective.
Donna’s critique:
Although I’m not sure I agree with the blanket indictment in Donna’s summation, her “Golden Section” comment best expresses my primary criticism.

“At first glance I saw myself canoeing the stream but alas it is too perfectly balanced. Asymmetry in my world is the watch word. It is often referred to as “The Golden Section.” It is beyond the Japanese aesthetic and is found in antiquity. Nature displays it often in a 3:5 proportion. We, human beings, try to put things into a very repetitive, equal, solid format.”
Zack’s critique
Zack almost won, but he doubted himself right out of first prize. Not that he doesn’t explain why, but still…
“My first impression looking at this is that I was looking at an illustration of a John Masters book, so it captures the feeling of an Indian jungle nicely. It appears to be divided symmetrically on first glance, but there is subtle movement in the river and the trees that make me doubt this. The trees are the perfect example of what we have been saying in our club workshops, the individual trees are not perfect trees, but the overall impression of the group is a whole that ties together. The understory plants provide a beautiful touch of deceiving scale.”
Honorable Mention by Rina Baptiste
Nothig against the winners, but this may be my favorite. Rina’s musings capture and express the best of Lew’s planting. But for the absence of our sought-after criticism, this easily could have won.
“A River in India, by Lew Buller is a tranquil and serene Sakai which beckons the bystander to become part of the landscape. The winding river down the center makes the on looker believe that there is more to see at the next turn. This piece is a journey in which the trees shade you from above. I especially appreciate the little tree in the back where the river turns it gives the impression that there is more beyond this point. The proportion of the trees is skillfully done. Their stark white trunks contrast with the dark greens of the terrain and the tree’s canopy. The use of the moss, rocks and little grasses give the landscape it’s grounding making it appear solid and firm. Whereas the light moss in the middle gives you an airy and floating like quality. The straight forward and uncomplicated rectangular pot in which this piece sits in gives it the suggestion and illusion of a page open in a Pop-up book. To put it briefly I would say this piece allows the observer a place to rest their minds and wander.”
Another Honorable Mention: Al Polito’s way too wordy critique (we said that critiques over 25o words would be frowned upon and we are frowning; which is why Al’s well thought out critique didn’t win a prize):
“Traveling to India is still near the top of my “bucket list,” so I can’t speak fully to the Indian-ness of the impression given by this saikei by Buller. However, I can speak partially to it, but I’ll get to that in a bit.
What I like about this saikei are the trees themselves. They are very natural and have the appearance of a riparian (riverside) ecosystem. I like that they’re all approximately the same size; this is important because frequently rivers flood hard, rip out all the vegetation in an area, and then trees such as alders all colonize at once and reach the same size at the same time. This is actually true of many forests, and I think it’s a natural phenomenon that more bonsai artists could play with.
However, this saikei is divided right down the middle, fixing attention on the river section. (I think the Asian preference for thirds over halves really works for all things bonsai.) That river leads to an empty space in the middle of the composition, which is either intentional, suggesting a large and dangerous waterfall, or it further serves to divide the composition in two. So since the focal point of the saikei is the river, let’s address it.
As mentioned before, I’ve never been to India. I have heard that the Ganges is one of the most polluted rivers in the world, and if this image represents a tributary of the Ganges, that might explain the yellow color. But for an American whose ideal rivers are crystal clear or blue and team with trout or salmon, a yellow river offends my sensibilities. (However if it were my chemical plant that were dumping all the waste into the stream and making tons of money for it I might feel differently.)
Another problem with the river is that it curves so perfectly, so evenly. These even curves are expressed in rivers, but on a much larger scale than you’d find in a saikei. And when you have a riparian corridor, you have rocks, boulders, rocky ledges, fallen logs, etc., everywhere. For all their peacefulness, rivers are violent beings sometimes and that needs to be expressed in a river scene. I have heard that India is a very different place from anywhere else in the world, but I suspect that rivers would be the same everywhere.
If I were to acquire this saikei, I would rearrange it with two thirds of the trees on the left (the tree with the very curvy trunk would lean over a riverbank). I would clean up the river and use rounded pebbles and larger rounded rocks with flat bottoms, which I would sink under the soil, and create some jumbles of “boulders.” The reeds or grass plantings I would have sprouting from between the rocks and boulders. One side of the planting would have a wider bank, strewn with mostly smaller rocks of the same size, representing just one curve of the river.
As with bonsai, it’s important to observe the stories in nature when designing saikei.”
Thanks to all
Thank you to all of you who entered. I enjoyed your critiques and thought that several were worthy of a prize, but someone has to win and someone has to lose.
Lat but not least: the rest of the critiques
Here are the rest in the order we received them:
Louis-Philippe COITEUX: “This landscape is too static… the two side are identical and do not attract the attention…”
M.G.: “This is an amazing representation of a favored past memory of a river and a walk through a wooded area. The mystery of what lies beyond the trees and the last bend in the river is intriguing. The airy look of the leaves on the trees is fantastic. The small plants and rocks in the groundcover add visual interest. But what happened to the tree near the center on the right to make it bent forward and then up in such an unusual way ? Or perhaps is this and the color sand chosen for water the only flaws in this remembered scene.”
Mark Buckowing: “Mr. Buller’s “River in India” is a charming example of Saikei. One can feel like they truly have travelled to another land if one takes the time to fully study this creation. Mr. Buller has done an excellent job in recreating the natural feeling of a wooded area with a river running through it. He has obviously carefully selected his trees and plants to simulate the growth patterns often found on riverbanks. I especially like that he included rocks in his “river” that one could imagine using to cross the “river” and I also like the very small grass that shows in the far reaches of the “river” (this small grass really makes the horizon “stretch” into the distance).
My only complaint (and it really is NOT a complaint, just an observation) – I would have preferred to see the river depicted with a white granite or some other color of sand or gravel. I found the tan color to look a little too “dry” when contrasted with the lush grasses & healthy trees.
Overall, a gorgeous creation. Mr. Buller should be justifiably proud of it.”
Jeremiah Lee: “More I look at this the more I like it. It sucks me in and makes me feel like I’m floating down a curvy river or stream. I like the arrangement of the trees and how they make two apexes on the right and one on the left, as if it were just two trees with two apexes. I might like to see a bit more variation in the girth of a few of the trunks. This variation would add more contrast and add more interest to the arrangement. I don’t really see any tree which stands out as the main or primary tree. I do like that not all the trees are perfectly straight, but the movement in the trunks is not too dramatic and too unrealistic. Maybe some more stones in the planting might look nice, but just my opinion and maybe there are not many stones in the rivers of India.”

Source: Bonsai Bark


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