Tree Art: 6 Amazingly Creative Bonsai Artists

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Bonsai artists have to have patience: their medium is growing and constantly changing.  Most people were introduced to bonsai by the Karate Kid’s Mr. Miyagi,  but bonsai culture is alive and well outside of the movies.  Like any art form, it has its stars and envelope pushers.  Here are a half-dozen of the world’s most creative and skilled modern bonsai artists.

Masahiko Kimura

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(images via jose marimura)

Masahiko Kimura shares a name with the famous judo practitioner whose brutal joint locks earned him worldwide fame.  But the bonsai artist Kimura (no relation) is equally well known to his peers. He first began to study a bonsai in order to please his mother.  He made his name in the industry because of the way he was able to shape deadwood.  He is known for his cutting edge work and for challenging tradition with his designs.

Ben Oki

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(images via ben oki bonsai)

Ben Oki is bonsai artist to the stars.  A landscaper and gardener with a business degree from one of Japan’s most prestigious business schools, he has created gardens for movie stars like Cybil Shepherd.  All his work shows his early classical training.

Oki studied under modern bonsai’s original master, John Naka (see below).  His gardens and bonsai designs are more classical than some of the other artists on this list.  He has received numerous awards both in the US and Japan.  He has even had an award named after himself, the Ben Oki International Design Award.

Lindsey Bebb

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(images via The Art of Bonsai Project)

Lindsey Bebb is one of Australia’s foremost bonsai artists.  He has been shaping miniature trees for nearly 40 years and has built a successful business around his work, running the only fully accredited bonsai retail shop in Australia.

Unlike some of the others on this list, color plays a major part in Bebb’s work.  Many of his miniature trees have flowers or leaves with hues that fall outside of the usual green and grey color spectrums.  His trees have a fuller, more natural look because of the leaves.

Quinquan Zhao

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(images via artofbonsai.org)

Quinquan Zhou is most famous for creating penjing (miniature landscapes that combine bonsai with soil, foliage, and rock).  Most people are probably more familiar with this Chinese art than the art of bonsai itself.  These landscapes have been seen in classical Chinese paintings for ages.

Born near the Yangtze River in Central China, Zhou has traveled around Europe, the Pacific Rim, and the Americas teaching and designing.  He has published books on penjing and is known for giving live demonstrations that children find especially entertaining.  He is also known for pioneering the use of marble in his designs to evoke the mountain scenery for which Central and Southern China are so famous.

Robert Steven

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(images via knowledge of bonsai)

Robert Steven is one of Indonesia’s most famous bonsai artists.  He is known for his somewhat avant guarde approach to penjing and bonsai.  His work does not have the same picturesque qualities that characterizes some of the others on this list.  Still, it would be a stretch to call him “bonsai’s bad boy.”  He has won major mainstream awards including the Ben Oki International Design Award.

Steven is quite active in the bonsai scene in Indonesia.  In fact, the art has gained a foothold on the archipelago and has become a popular form of classical art.

John Naka

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(images via bonsai 4 me and art of bonsai)

The late John Naka was the most famous American bonsai artist of his time.  Though he was born in the US, he returned to Japan to study bonsai at a very young age.  He was the darling of the American bonsai scene for much of the 1950s and 60s.  His most recognizable work, Goshin, still sits at the US National Arboretum.  It consists of 11 impossibly straight juniper trees.

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