Bay Island Bonsai 11th Annual Show

December 29, 2009

The 11th annual Bay Island Bonsai “Exhibit of Fine Bonsai” is coming up on January 16-17 and Boon has again asked Mas to participate as a guest exhibitor.

The BIB show consists of formal 6-foot seki-kazari displays, in which the main display object is paired with one or two other elements, such as a scroll or a small plant.  Mas has often chosen to make a contemporary display, pairing one of his own paintings with a suiseki, rather than using a more traditional Japanese scroll.  It is always a challenge to select a painting that will harmonize with the suiseki and help to create a meditative space.

This year Mas plans to show two stones that I have recently written about: Longevity and Pietà.

Our club is excited about our new location at the Alameda County Fairgrounds and hope that everyone can find us there! Please go to the Bay Island Bonsai Exhibit page for details about the show.

Mas’ display at the 2008 BIB Exhibit:

"Silence"; Klamath River stone (W 8 1/2" x D 6 1/2" x H 4 ") in copper suiban; Oil painting on wood - 48" x 24"


Live Long and Prosper

December 4, 2009

When Mas is out collecting, he will pick up a stone if he sees something of interest.  If the stone material is good enough, with beautiful color or texture, he will bring it home for study even if he does not immediately see the potential suiseki.

Mas collected this dramatic piece of jadeite simply because it is so beautiful.  He hoped to perhaps find a good mountain shape in it.  He left it in the yard for several months while studying it .

During that time he noticed that in some views it looked like some sort of animal, maybe a cow or a sheep.  Then one day he happened to put it in the right orientation, and discovered the image of a turtle.  Mas cannot even find the words to describe his feeling – it was such a big surprise.  For a Japanese (and other East Asian people) the turtle is a powerful symbol of good luck.

Minogame - Edo period scroll The minogame (蓑亀), or 1000 year turtle, is a mythical animal that symbolizes longevity and brings good fortune.  It is usually depicted with a long, feathery tail of seaweed, which is thought to grow in the turtle’s shell. 

His first daiza presented the stone very explicitly as a turtle.  It had large legs and tail and he proudly showed it in 2001 at the 20th Anniversary exhibit of San Francisco Suiseki Kai.  But his excitement quickly faded.  By making such an obvious turtle, he hid the beauty and mystery of the stone.  To me, it became “cute” instead of profound. 

Following this Mas tried a couple of non-traditional approaches.  He first used the “Suiseki Art” approach he was developing at that time.  He used a large Cedar board as the base and carved out a seat for Kame-san (Mr. Turtle).  This was okay, but that Mas felt that it was missing something important.  Sitting on the large board did not emphasize the beauty of the ancient turtle.  (Click here for some earlier posts about Mas’ Suiseki Art.)

  A few years later he tried a this rather contemporary sculptural form, with simplified long legs and an open tunnel under the stone. He did it in plaster just to see if it would work, and he says it absolutely did not!  You can judge for yourself in this picture.

So Mas decided to go back to suiseki for this stone.   He first tried the “contemporary style” of daiza that he has been using recently for some natural stones (see, for example, Hideko’s stone).  This is a somewhat minimalist style, and Mas felt that it didn’t have enough “bite”. 

None of the bases he had made so far satisfied him.  They did not harmonize with the aged, dignified, feeling of the stone and Kame-san was not happy.

Finally he has gone all the way back to a traditional daiza.  The simple elegance of the two-level rim, with its slightly decorative touch, supports and harmonizes well with the stone.  While the finished piece does acknowledge the turtle shape (with the legs and fan-shaped tail), it does not over-emphasize it.  The viewer can enjoy the suiseki, using her own free imagination.

Mas says that it is amazing to find a stone such as this. He has been constantly trying to change the daiza and the way of displaying the stone, hoping each time for a bit of improvement.  He says that the more he loves the stone, the more it gives him energy to continue meeting its endless challenge.

As always, click on the photos for larger views, and a gallery of additional pictures.

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The Sky Behind the Sky

October 16, 2009

About eight or nine years ago, Mas started using spray paint on   wood boards to create his suiseki art, and soon developed his technique to make paintings. 

When I first met him, Mas was making paintings in his “Atmosphere” series.   At the time, Mas told me that he was trying to “paint the sky behind the sky”.  Light seems to pour from his paintings, and I swear they can brighten a dark room. 

Mas’ pictures are not representational landscapes, rather he tries to free his mind from any intention when he paints.  But, like suiseki, the resulting images evoke the natural world and bring it into our human life. 

Space: Sunrise, 2/24/2009; 24
Space: Sunrise, 2/24/2009; 24"x48", oil on panel
click the photo to see more paintings

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Crater Lake

September 20, 2009

Some time ago I wrote about a suiseki that reminds me of a visit to Crater Lake with my mother (Evocation).  Making the daiza for this stone had fired Mas’ imagination and, having once viewed Crater Lake from 30,000 feet,  Mas wanted to go and see this magical place. We finally went this year as part of a road trip to the Pacific Northwest.

The night before, even though we had been on the road for nearly two weeks, we were like little kids waiting for Christmas who are too excited to sleep.  We got up about 4 am and left our motel just before dawn for the drive up Highway 138, along the North Umpqua River, to Crater Lake National Park.

The river runs through a dense forest, and is a quiet, introspective place.  There are no large vistas, instead you focus on the changing textures of the water surface and the play of light and shadow. We had only a beaver and the occasional fisherman to share our solitude.

Arriving at Crater Lake, the dense forest gave way to sparse vegetation with widely spaced trees, and the grand view of the lake opened up.

The crater (or more accurately caldera) was formed about 7700 years ago when the 12,000 foot high Mt. Mazama collapsed following a huge eruption. This eruption,  the largest to have occurred on earth in the last 10,000 years, scattered ash 6 inches deep over 5000 sq. miles (15 cm over 12,950 sq km).  The rim of the resulting crater stands at 7100 feet – meaning that 5000 feet of mountain disappeared in the eruption and collapse.

The rim rises 1000 feet (305 m) above the surface of the lake which formed inside the crater.  The lake is the deepest in the U.S. at about 1943 feet deep (592 meters) and the seventh deepest in the world.  The lake has no inflows or outflows and maintains itself through rain and snow melt.  The deep indigo color of the lake comes from the great depth of exceptionally clear, pure water.

Following the cataclysm, the volcano continued smaller eruptions, building cinder cones within the crater.  The largest of these is Wizard Island, which rises 2700 feet (820 meters) above the crater floor, and about 767 feet (234 meters) above the water surface.  The last eruption was about 5000 years ago, but continued hydrothermal activity at the bottom of the lake shows that the volcano is not extinct.

We spent the rest of the day on the Rim Drive, enjoying the colors and patterns on the water, the rock formations, and the whitebark pines that grow along the crater edge.

At the end of the day, with the sun getting low, we started what we expected to be a relaxed, quiet drive along the Rogue River on Highway 62 to Medford. But suddenly, as we approached the town of Union Creek, we saw amazing rapids by the side of the road.  We quickly pulled off and found ourselves at the Rogue River Gorge.  Here the river tumbles over waterfalls and through narrow chutes formed by hardened lava.   Earlier in our trip we had crossed the sedate, mature river where it flows quietly into the Pacific Ocean.  Now we were seeing it in its youth, dancing joyfully down the mountain.

What memories I have whenever I look at my little suiseki.

Click any picture to see a gallery of photos from our Crater Lake visit

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Oku Izumo

July 30, 2009
Shivering on the bridge near Miinohara

Shivering on the bridge near Miinohara

I think that one of the best meals I’ve ever had  was some simple noodles in a little town in Japan.

One chilly, gray day last fall, while  visiting the San’in region, Mas and I took a JR sightseeing train into the mountains of “inner Izumo”  to view the  fall colors.  We had seen a soba restaurant advertised in the JR pamphlet, so on the way back down we got off in Miinohara for lunch.   We found ourselves in a little unmanned station, more like a bus stop than anything else, with  nothing around but farmhouses.  It was raining and cold, we were  incredibly hungry, and the next train wouldn’t leave for another couple of hours.  We thought maybe we’d just made a huge mistake!

But we walked down the road and around the corner and there was the restaurant – Okuizumo Gen-an (奥出雲玄庵).  It was warm inside, and the waitress was welcoming.  The people who run the restaurant make the day’s noodles each morning from buckwheat they grow on their farm.  The menu offers only two choices – we had the “tororo soba” (buckwheat noodles served with a kind of grated  yam)  followed by a  nourishing bowl of sobayu, the water in which the noodles were cooked.

We were warmed by the good food and simple hospitality.

Okuizumo Genan in Miinohara

Okuizumo Gen-an in Miinohara

Click on any picture to go to the photo gallery

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Gomangoku Bonsai Show

February 20, 2009

Click to see a gallery of photos

This old five-needle pine carries my imagination up into the high mountains.

Last fall, Mas and I went to the Gomangoku Bonsai show (五万石盆栽展) in Okazaki, near Nagoya.

Daiju-en (大樹園), which puts on this exhibit, stands at the head of a group of bonsai nurseries run by some of the finest professional bonsai artists in Japan.  The proprietor is Tohru Suzuki, the grandson of the founer, Saichi Suzuki. My bonsai teacher, Boon Manakitivipart, is part of this lineage.  His teacher (or oyakata 親方), Kihachiro Kamiya, apprenticed with Tohru’s father, Toshinori.

One of the things that sets Japanese bonsai apart from our American bonsai  is the age and development of the trees.  You can see this especially when you look at the ancient bark on the pines.  In time our trees will also show the beauty and dignity of age.

click to see a gallery of photos

Gomangoku has a large, high-quality, sales area.

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Curtain Call

December 21, 2008
2008 12 20 003 2009 BIB Show ltroom resized

Click on the photo to see additional pictures

Fall and winter are always a busy time of year for me, and my blogging rate falls off accordingly.   Right now, I am about to start final preparations for the 10th Anniversary Bay Island Bonsai exhibit, which will be  held January 17-18, 2009.  I am showing the four bonsai you see above, and Mas is planning two suiseki displays.

This year’s show trees are sleeping right now, but in a couple of weeks I will dress each one up and get it ready for display.  This includes various activities such as applying a top dressing of moss, removing wires, and cleaning and (lightly) oiling the pots.

Coming up in the New Year I’ll return with more of Mas’ suiseki, as well as some photos of the interesting places we saw in our recent trip to Japan.

Meanwhile, Mas and I would like to wish you a Good Solstice, and a very Happy New Year.

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Pietà

October 24, 2008

When Mas first collected this stone it was covered in baked mud.  After cleaning it with soap and water he kept it in the garden as a landscape stone.  After many years in the rain and sun the dirt had been cleaned off and the stone started to show the waterfall.  Finally the crystals that form the waterfall had completely whitened.   

Mas says that he has been struggling to finish this stone for fifteen years because of its unbalanced proportions.  It has a strong sculptural form, especially as seen from the sides where it evokes for him the work of Brancusi  (especially Bird in Space).  This stone is so beautiful as art, but is very difficult as suiseki. ( click here to see additional photos).

Recently, Mas has been enjoying working with the traditional daiza form, with its two-level rim, for natural stones such as this.  The classic beauty and elegance of this form has been developed by artists and craftsmen over many centuries.

If you look back at The Struggle, Mas feels that he got lost by trying too hard to make the finished piece “fine art”, and it ended up not being good suiseki.  The piece was caught between the two, neither fine art nor suiseki.   This time he wanted to pay careful attention to the stone and its form.  Pieta is a very fine waterfall and he finished it as a suiseki.

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Suiseki Daiza – Cut stones

September 16, 2008

Making daiza for suiseki is hard; you need to acquire the necessary wood carving skills, you need a sensitive, artistic eye, and you need to develop an understanding of the aesthetics of the art form.

As a beginning daiza maker you will likely start with a standard daiza style and practice it first for cut stones and then with natural stones. In the process you will gain technical skills and develop your artistic eye and understanding of suiseki.  As your skill develops you may start to modify the style of your daiza in order to better capture the unique qualities of individual stones.

As regular readers of this blog know, Mas will cut a stone when he feels it is right artistically for a particular stone.  He does not like to do this however if the result will be just a mediocre suiseki.  Cutting the stone must not only be an improvement over the stone in its natural state, but the resulting composition must meet the aesthetic criteria and “rules” for suiseki.

Finding a very good cut stone is difficult, almost as hard as finding a good natural stone. A cut stone suiseki must consist of a mineral of medium-hardness, with good color and patina; most important, it needs to follow the rule of three-sides (三面の法 sanmen-no-hou) and have a good seat (kamae 構).    (You can find a previous discussion of this topic in our article To Cut or Not to Cut.)

Mas always recommends that beginning daiza makers begin with cut stones, and develop both their wood working skills and their artistic understanding of suiseki, prior to tackling the natural stones.

In this article I’m not going to show a “how to” for making a cut stone daiza.  That information is widely available through workshops and books (I’ll give some references below).  Instead, Mas and I want to discuss some of the different styles of daiza he uses.

Each stone is different, and you cannot use a single type of daiza for every suiseki.  The shape and height of the daiza wall and legs need to be adapted in order to harmonize with the particular stone. If you click on the pictures below, you will find photo galleries that illustrate each section.  In these galleries you will see specific comments about particular suiseki and their daiza.

Traditional Daiza

The beginning point for any daiza maker is a “traditional” style.  In Mas’ case, this is a simple daiza form that was brought to Northern  California by the Japanese artists that introduced suiseki to us.  These traditional daiza, which derive from those popular during the Meiji period, have a straight, horizontal rim with two levels – the inner rim is slightly higher than the outer rim.

This style is well suited to the classic “distant mountain” stones such as the one shown above.  While it is strongly asymmetrical, the stone nevertheless has a quiet, reserved feeling.  It does not have strong movement, there is not a lot of surface texture, and the color range is muted and subtle.  The simplicity of the daiza combined with the slightly decorative touch of the raised inner rim gives this suiseki a restrained, elegant feeling.

The apparent simplicity of the daiza, of course, belies the actual difficulty in making it.  While the style dictates the overall form, every detail can vary:  the height and width of the daiza wall, the size and placement of each foot, even the angle at which each foot meets the ground.

Contemporary Daiza

In recent years, suiseki artists in Japan and elsewhere have developed a new style that has a single rim line.  This style is of course less decorative and has a less formal feeling than the traditional style.

Mas no longer uses this style very often, but for the suiseki above the simplicity of the daiza harmonizes well with the stone and helps to keep the eye focused on the stone and not the base.

Creative Daiza

Recently, Mas has started exploring a new style of daiza, trying to better enhance the features of individual stones.  In this “creative” style, Mas does not stick to a horizontal rim, but adjusts it with the movement of the stone.

If you look at this suiseki, Mas chose to cut the stone lower than he normally would and vary the height of the daiza rim.  This lets him reveal the “valley” in the lower part of the front while filling in the undercuts at each end.

Obviously, this style requires the same wood carving skill that is needed for a natural stone suiseki. The point, however, is not to show off the artist’s skill, nor to pretend that it is a natural stone. The intention is improve the cut stone and show the suiseki to its best advantage.

This creative style does not suit all stones.   In the gallery behind the photo you will see some examples where the busyness and movement of the base distracts from the beauty of the stone and a simpler, more traditional daiza would fit better.

The suiseki artist needs to appreciate the particular uniqueness of each stone and make a daiza that enhances it.  As Mas says “I like to find what is best for the stone.  No matter how much time I spend, once I pick it up and bring it home, whether it is a cut stone or natural, I want to do the best I can to enhance the stone.  This is my way of stone appreciation.”

References for Daiza Making

The easiest way to learn how to make daiza is to belong to a local suiseki club if one is available.  There are also seminars and conventions held in the U.S., Europe, and Asia where instruction can be had.  Often, suiseki instructors participate at bonsai conventions and shows.

Coming up in October, 2008 is the International Stone Appreciation Seminar in Pennsylvania.

Books

Suiseki – The Japanese Art of Miniature Landscape Stones by Felix Rivera (published by Stone Bridge Press, Berkeley, CA)

The Japanese Art of Stone Appreciation by Vincent T. Covello and Yuji Yoshimura (published by Charles E. Tuttle, Rutland, VT)

Various Japanese language books written by members of the Murata family have illustrated guides (with photos) for making the older traditional style of daiza.  One source for these old books is http://www.japanese-book.com/index.php .

Web Resources

Suiseki force et beauté (in French)
Michael Hach
International Stone Appreciation Society
Bonsaimania (in Spanish)

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Old Friends, New Faces III

August 16, 2008

Mas will be sowing his latest suiseki art sculpture and two paintings in the next show at Triangle Gallery, Old Friends, New Faces III.

Old Friends, New Faces III
August 26, 2008 – September 27, 2008
Reception September 6, 3 p.m. – 5 p.m.

Triangle Gallery
47 Kearny Street, San Francisco, CA 94108
Tel. 415.392.1686

Gallery Hours: Tuesday – Saturday, 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.


Painting: “Winter Blue”;2008;48″ x 24″;Oil paint on wood board
Sculpture: “Great Land” (大地 Daichi), 2008; W 45″ x D 16″ x H 9″; Stone and paint on wood board (deodar cedar)

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