The Art of Suiseki - Classical Japanese Stone Gardening
by Willi Benz
Sterling Publishing Co., Inc. New York 192pp., $29.95
Reviewed by Will Heath*
Why review a book on Suiseki for a forum dedicated to advancement of the art of bonsai? Bonsai is an art form that can stand on its own merits, but like a masterpiece painting, a frame can well enhance the overall image presented. In the art of bonsai the frame is the display. As more and more enthusiasts begin to display their bonsai, many often start looking toward Suiseki as a component of the display. Many more become exposed to Suiseki through their studies of bonsai and eventually become enamored with the "art stones" suddenly finding themselves collecting and consequently displaying these stones, not only as components of a bonsai display, but indeed on their own artistic merits. It is in the spirit of presenting all topics relevant to the art of bonsai that this review is presented for our readers.
In a previous review I made the observation that Mr. Benz's book "Bonsai Kusamono Suiseki - A Practical Guide for Organizing Displays with Plants and Stones" was the bible of display. Upon reading this remarkable book on Suiseki, I am quite confident in stating that this book is no less of a valuable resource and considering the vast amount of information covered, it could well be called the bible of Suiseki.
Mr. Benz has a well-defined talent for researching subjects to acquire historically accurate information that he blends seamlessly with his own vast and well-recognized experience. He has the ability to then present this blend of information and experience in a intellectual and entertaining manner that is not only highly educational, but inspiring as well. This talent is very apparent in this book, which is a comprehensive guide to Suiseki that covers virtually every aspect of the art.
The 192 pages that make up this book are filled with color photographs of some of the best Suiseki in the world, including many from his own collection, from the collection of the Rare Stone Museum in Singapore, and from collections and exhibitions around the world. There are dozens of illustrations Mr. Benz utilizes to further explain the concepts presented to the reader. The book is easy to read and yet the author presents the content in an intellectual manner that allows for quick comprehension and reference.
The reader is first exposed to the history and philosophy of Suiseki while being thoroughly grounded in the thoughts behind the artistic considerations of displaying stones. Mr. Benz leaves no stone unturned (pun intended) in this book, taking the reader through a well-planned journey from collecting to displaying Suiseki.
This book covers every aspect of acquiring a stone including recognizing a stone of value, collecting, cleaning, and obtaining a patina. A brief lesson on geology is even included as a base for understanding why certain stones are acceptable as Suiseki while others are not. The book also contains descriptions of notions and features of Suiseki for the individual wishing to purchase stones and includes a page listing what to look for when purchasing. It gives a complete listing of the accepted classifications of stones by size, shape, surface patterns, place of origin, and color which is a valuable reference for those in the art as well as those individuals who are just starting out and are seeking a better understanding of the art.
This book contains excellent instructions, complete with illustrations and pictures, on making a Daiza to display your stone on, including examples of the many different types and styles, of various leg shapes, and even the best types of wood and their characteristics that can be used in the construction. Mr. Benz also gives us his personal recipes for making finishes for the completed Daiza. Every aspect of Daiza construction is discussed from the placement of legs to the color as it corresponds to the color of the stone.
Also covered is the proper use of a Suiban or a Doban when displaying Suiseki, including descriptions, illustrations, and photographs of such. Mr. Benz discusses the various kinds of material suitable to be used in the containers, covering sand and other substrates according to size, texture, and color. He also gives numerous examples of using water instead of a substrate for display.
True to his nature, Mr. Benz also gives the reader an extensive course on displaying Suiseki outdoors, indoors, on tables, in alcoves, on stands, in tokonoma, tearoom, and other areas. Artistic considerations based on sound principles such as the golden rule are discussed in-depth. Accessories, accents, and display with bonsai are considered and examples are given to help explain almost every circumstance imaginable.
I found the information presented in this book to be incredibly in-depth and educational and I have come to consider this work to be a priceless reference on all matters concerning Suiseki and the display of such. Even without the vast information, this book still stands tall as a gallery of beautiful, inspiring stones and should be in every enthusiast's library.
* About Will Heath