Profile: Robert Steven
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Author:  Will Heath [ Mon Mar 13, 2006 3:01 pm ]
Post subject:  Profile: Robert Steven

Profile: Robert Steven
Robert Steven

Robert Steven has been involved in the art since 1979 and has won more than 50 competition awards nationally and internationally. He is also very active in national and international bonsai organizations. His recent book 'Vision of My Soul' brings his thoughts and his love for the art of bonsai into the light it well deserves. Robert's gallery here at AoB highlights his remarkable talent.

The following is an on-line interview conducted with Robert Steven:

AoB: Robert, we must compliment you on the exquisite design of your book, "Vision of My Soul". What events led you to publish a book that broke away from the usual pot, grow, and style books that are common in bonsai and publish a book that deals with the art of bonsai?

RS: Thanks. In fact, I had been writing many articles in our local publications and giving Bonsai classes to introduce my different approach concept to stimulate the creativity in creating Bonsai as an art rather than a craft. Many of my friends keep encouraging me to publish my articles in a book because no one has ever written such book before.

AoB: Do you study other art forms beside bonsai? If so, what influence do you feel that has on your bonsai?

RS: I have no formal education in art, but I learn a lot as I am dealing with sculptures as my main business. I am doing sculptures and I did painting; then I found Bonsai was simply another form of visual art with similar aesthetic concept applied. Then I tried to define the basic principal into an easy understanding and teachable concept that can be implemented into Bonsai.

AoB: Would you say that studying other art forms is important if one wants to attain a higher level or artistry in bonsai?

RS: I always believe that practical skill should be supported by theoretical knowledge. Otherwise, we don't know what we are doing and why and we will not be able to optimally convey our message through our creation.

AoB: Do you remember what, if any, important event in your life led you to get involved with bonsai?

RS: It was 25 years ago when I was driving with my family to our local mountain area for the week-ends, then I found people selling the miniature trees along the road. I basically like nature, I like gardening, and then I bought my first Bonsai...then got addicted...

AoB: Was there, at any point of your life, a moment when you had doubts that bonsai is the art form you want to pursue for the rest of your life?

RS: Oh you may have read my book. I mentioned that there was once I wanted to stop doing Bonsai because of the so-called Bonsai criteria and the rules. I found that what our local community (at that time) considered as good Bonsai didn't suit my beliefs and understanding as to what was good as an art form.

That's also the reason then I kept trying to find the "truth"...

AoB: As an artist, is it important to you that other, recognized bonsai masters approve of your work? Or would you rather focus on creating something that is the expression of your vision, regardless of what others think?

RS: I keep learning from the other great masters, but for me, it's not important if they recognize my works or not, it's not my objective.

I do Bonsai purely as fun, nothing to do with my business; it's my personal hobby to reflect my personal character, my spirit and my vision. It took me at least 5 years till my first Bonsai won an award in our local contest and people started to accept my aesthetic arguments.

The best measurement is not recognized by other masters, but on how the community accepts it. If our work and concept is accepted, we will automatically exist. You can't tell people you are an artist, let people call it.

AoB: Would you consider your trees are more Japanese, or Chinese, in their design? There appears to be an influence of Penjing in much of your work. Is this a conscious decision, on your part?

RS: I admire the Japanese discipline on the technical skill, but I personally love the inner beauty of the Chinese philosophy. There is an unspoken romance and poetic nuance in the Chinese Penjing...the thematic message is a sensation for I like the Chinese poem and the Chinese painting.

I never try and I never care if my creation is more Chinese or more Japanese, I just try to do my best to optimize the presentation of the material available. The most important for me is how to explore the character of the tree to be an artistic creation with relevant horticultural clue.

AoB: What is that in your work makes the trees "natural looking". We know that bonsai do not strictly imitate nature, yet we often talk about naturalness in bonsai. How do you achieve this "naturalness" with your trees?

RS: Nature is the best teacher and nature is never perfect. I never try to make my Bonsai perfect in the physical sense, but I try to achieve the perfection in ugliness can be the key value of interest that make the Bonsai unique and provocative.

AoB: Where do you get the inspiration for your landscapes? Are they representative of landscapes in your area?

RS: I am traveling so much to different countries and every piece of view can be an inspiration...

AoB: Once you start working on a tree or a landscape, do you always have in mind the final image, or is it an evolving image based on how the trees are developing?

RS: I always start with what I have...the individual tree is like the basic sketching line and form, then my job is how to compose them...exactly as how I do the sketch on my painting canvas. So I never have preset obsessions on what to do, the final work can be totally different from what I started.

AoB: Which is more important to you: To work on existing trees and landscapes and constantly improve them; Or to start new projects as often as you can?

RS: I always like to do something new; but quite often, I do restyling from zero again on my existing trees.

AoB: Robert, people in the US and Europe do not often hear about the bonsai scene in Indonesia. Could you tell us about the state of the art there and about the way the art is growing there as compared to your understanding of it in other countries?

RS: The Indonesian Bonsai is growing amazingly and we are on the direction to the artistic stage. Thanks God for the species and the climate we have.

I am one of the founders of "Indonesian Bonsai Art Discussion Forum" and we have regular discussion with one believe and vision: Bonsai is a visual art form and we should create Bonsai as an art, not craft.

AoB: Is there a particular species that is not suitable to the climate you live in, but you would love to work with?

RS: Oh ya...I love Five needle pine, Golden larch...but just no way !

AoB: Robert, one of the most noticeable species used for bonsai in Indonesia is Pemphis acidula. Are they particularly easy to collect? The specimens we see on the Internet are nothing short of astonishing. They all seem to be of massive, gnarled, old trees that are very large.

RS: It was easily found along the coat line of our islands (we have more than 17,000 islands), but good material can hardly found now..all being hunted! Unless one goes to to the very remote island with severe conditions...

I'd say that Pemphis is one of the most unique species for Bonsai, there is no limit of styles you can do with it beside the strong character and physical features. But we also have wonderful Casuarina and Premna.

Author:  Shaukat Islam [ Wed Sep 06, 2006 8:09 am ]
Post subject:  Robert Steven

Hi Will,
I really enjoyed reading about Robert Steven, who also happens to be one of my favourite contemporary bonsai artists. Can you help me get his email address as I want to send him a message.
I browsed through the members' list but could not find his name at AoB.

Author:  Will Heath [ Wed Sep 06, 2006 9:11 am ]
Post subject: 

Hi Shaukat,
I have forwarded your message to Robert. He is also one of my favorite artists.


Author:  Shaukat Islam [ Wed Sep 27, 2006 9:17 am ]
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Hi Will,
Thank you very much for taking the trouble.

Author:  Bill Nelson [ Mon Nov 06, 2006 10:10 am ]
Post subject: 

I am one of the founders of "Indonesian Bonsai Art Discussion Forum"

Does anyone have a link to this discussion forum? I tried Google but could not find it.
Bill Nelson

Author:  Dorothy Schmitz [ Tue Nov 07, 2006 1:53 pm ]
Post subject: 

you might want to ask Budi Sullistyo for more information.
He is a member of this forum.
Please keep us posted.

Author:  Frank Cook [ Tue Apr 03, 2007 7:22 pm ]
Post subject:  Vision of my soul

Does anyone know where you can purchase Robert book or know of anyone that has it for sale?

Author:  Will Heath [ Tue Apr 03, 2007 8:13 pm ]
Post subject: 

Last I heard, still had a few copies of the first edition. There is a second edition being released, but it is in soft cover. Although the content is still fantastic, the hand bound cover with the silver inlaid leaf on the limited run first edition, is no longer a part of it.
I don't know if they have it advertised there, but call or email Wayne and he will let you know if he has any left. Tell him AoB sent ya! ;)


Author:  Frank Cook [ Wed Apr 04, 2007 6:07 pm ]
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Thanks Will --- I did and they are all out of them. Oh well will have to wait for the 2nd edition.

Author:  Will Heath [ Wed Apr 04, 2007 6:28 pm ]
Post subject: 

The last place I know of is ... utique.pdf

There is always Ebay...


Author:  Robert Steven [ Thu Apr 05, 2007 12:07 pm ]
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Hi guys,
Sorry, this is the first time I log in to this forum because I have been traveling alot recently.
My email are : or
You can drop me messages at any time...
Re. Indonesian Bonsai Art Discussion Forum is not an internet forum, but it is a regular meeting forum to discuss bonsai art among bonsai enthusiasts in Indonesia. This interactive forum has been very effective to upgrade our bonsai especially for those who have no chance to visit bonsai events abroad nor having access to upgrade their bonsai knowledge.
My book is out of print now; but it will be reprinted by around July this year and Stone lantern will certainly sell.

Author:  Robert Steven [ Wed Feb 13, 2008 12:19 pm ]
Post subject: 

For info, my book " Vision of My Soul " has been reprinted and can be ordered through :

My second book " Mission of Transformation " will hopefully publish by end of 2008 or early 2009.

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