– by Mas Nakajima
I started studying suiseki in the late 1970s under Yukikichi (Keiseiki) Hirotsu, who was a popular suiseki artist and collector. Mr. Hirotsu was one of the people who introduced suiseki to Northern California. In 1963, he founded the first suiseki club in America, Kashu Suiseki Kai in Palo Alto, and in 1982 he and Mr. and Mrs. Iwasaki founded San Francisco Suiseki Kai, and I joined Suiseki Kai shortly after that.
For the first 15 years or so I concentrated on learning the techniques and traditions of Japanese suiseki. At first I was very busy running my general contracting business and raising four young children, but gradually I started going tanseki (stone collecting) more often and making daiza constantly. Eventually I had so many finished suiseki – way more than 100 – that I ran out of room inside the house and started storing the stones everywhere in my yard.
By the early 90’s I was quite a serious and crazy stone guy, and I started asking myself a new question: “what to do with these beautiful stones that just do not fit into the traditional rules and categories of Japanese suiseki?” Visiting many great national parks in the West such as Yosemite, Kings Canyon and Sequoia, Death Valley and especially the magnificent Grand Canyon made me realize that there are many great landscapes and scenes that are not seen in Japan. These scenes were way out of my imagination. I was also very much influenced at that time by my good friend Mr. Tei (Yu-Lin Chung), who was an established folk artist and antique collector from Taiwan. I used to visit his house regularly and exchange ideas about suiseki with him.
My mind started to open, and I found the courage to follow my own vision for each particular stone. Every stone is different and I realized that you cannot simply follow a rule. You have to pay attention to, and show respect for, the stones individuality.
Most of the stones that I collect fit well into the traditional suiban or daiza display – and that is always my first choice. I tried to approach some of these unusual stones by making daiza that showed them as abstract or figure stones. However, some of them were not happy to stay as suiseki – or perhaps I was not satisfied, so it seemed that the stone was not happy.
The first suiseki art piece I created was with this beautiful makuro-ishi (black stone) with a tamari (water pool). I thought about cutting the stone and making a daiza for it, but that would wreck the deep tamari. So I used large thick lumber to set the stone and tried to carve a daiza for a traditional kaburi-iwa (head cover stone) suiseki. Perhaps I would display it with a small boat to add to the scene. The more I carved however, the more the stone started losing its power and spirit and became just ordinary scenery, and the free imagination was going to disappear.
So I tried again, this time using a solid piece of birch wood. I carefully selected the location based on study of the wood grain, and I made a seat for the stone by carving deeply into the wood. After the stone was properly seated, I polished the wood to enhance the grain.
I like the simplicity and flexibility of this style, where the wood board gives the feeling of limitless space for the viewer’s free imagination.
“Looking Forward”; W 30″ x D 14″ x H 9″; Trinity River stone and birch
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