Gallery: Nick Lenz
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Author:  Editorial Staff [ Sun Jul 03, 2005 12:22 pm ]
Post subject:  Gallery: Nick Lenz

This thread is for discussion of the Nick Lenz gallery.

Author:  Will Heath [ Mon Jul 04, 2005 8:40 pm ]
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As always, excellent work. Let me be the first to thank you for the gallery you have here, it is nice to have your work in a single collection that can inspire and move all who view. Thank you for taking the time to do this, it is highly appreciated.

Will Heath

Author:  Richard W. Crabtree III [ Mon Jul 04, 2005 9:44 pm ]
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Ditto, you as well as Walter, are inspiration for this aspiring bonsai artist.

Author:  Attila Soos [ Tue Jul 05, 2005 1:17 pm ]
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I've found that it worthwile to me to jot down a few thoughts about each. When I do that, it stimulates me and takes me on an inward journey. It is not meant to describe the work or pass judgement on it.

It may not even be useful for anybody else but myself, but I wrote them down anyway.

Part one:
The larch growing in the ball has one thing that ruins the whole effect for me: the nebari is covered inside the ball. I know that this work has nothing to do with bonsai in the traditional sense and so it should not be expected to abide by any guideline applied to bonsai, but I just can't get over the missing nebari, and, total lack of taper. No matter how much I want to view it with an empty mind, I just can't do it this time.

The Malus ssp. is wonderful. The single most important feature that I like is that it feels like it is moving. I see a human figure leaning forward and sneaking towards his target. I wish it was a conifer, though.

The Rhododendron ssp. with its stark red-white contrast, smooth egg-like pot and the flat oval shape, gives me a sense of pleasure and liveliness.

The rose with the balls and the baby is totally baby-like. It's all pink and round and smooth and playful, like a baby. Very original.

The blueberry has an amazing nebari. It makes me explore its intricate details over and over. I like it a lot.

The next tree, (could be a blue atlas cedar) growing on the structure made of cubes is one of my favorites. I see it as an architectural masterpiece. Can't take my eyes off it. Brilliant.

The cascade Blue rug Juniper is probably one of the least interesting ones to my taste. It is a beautiful cascade, but I am just not too crazy about cascades in general, unless they have some outstanding features. This one is just nice, but nothing too exciting.

The second Blue rug reminds me of a towering redwood with all its majestic features. I really love it. Another favorite of mine. It's one of the best formal uprights I've seen. I also like that it's not totally straight like your average formal upright.

The last Blue rug has an exquisite trunk, with an infinite array of intricate details. Every time I look at it, it feels like I am looking at it the first time. Just a fabulous tree.

The Larix on the Barbie is ghostly, ghastly and grotesque. It reminds me of a burial mound. It is also a grotesque caricature of human vanity and those women who aspire to look like a Barbie doll (this is of course my interpretation, may have nothing to do with the original intent).

The Larix laricina in the sloping pot is a truly magnificent bonsai. It is an ancient tree with a shape full of drama and force.

The Rhododendron in cathedral ruin is picturesque and romantic. It reminds me of rural Italy, with its rolling hills and charming castles. A vacation love affair is in sight.

The Christian larch is burning with passion. Amazing picture!

The Demon larch is so...gothic! I love every inch of it. How can someone create such an amazing tree?

Dwarf cherry. I don't know what to admire the most. The pot? The striking flowers, or the simplicity of the trunk line? Words are a poor substitute, even for a jaded bonsai admirer like myself.

I will finish my tour in my next post when my time permits.
I think it would be interesting to see what the members' impressions are about these trees. Comments such as "great trees, thank you Nick" do not reveal much about what we see or feel about them. I don't mean to criticise others about making similar comments, but just a suggestion that it's infinitely more interesting to see what exactly we see and imagine when looking at these wonderful creations.

Nick's work is controversial and stimulating at best. I am sure, he can take a few controversial and stimulating comments as well.

Author:  Attila Soos [ Tue Jul 05, 2005 3:21 pm ]
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Part two...
The Elm saikei. The picture is a bit too small to reveal all the details and to have the deserved impact. So, I can only comment on what I see, but I am sure that there is much more to it. It has a distictly European flavor, may be because it suggests an environment where human activity dates back for centuries. The rock could be partially the reason, to me it suggest an old ruin, but this would be more clear if the picture was larger.

I can also see a human face on the trunk of the larger elm - may be my imagination. I really like the shapes and branch arrangement of the two trees. The exposed roots bother me a little, but this may be because of the size of the picture and lack of fine details. I wouldn't be surprised if these roots would support the overall image if it were for a much larger picture, but I can't tell it from this one.

The Elm over tank gives me a visual delight, I am not even trying to interpret the various but nevertheless obvious contexts behind it. There is an instant humor loaded with the image, it works great for me.
The bird-like trunk of the Rhododendron ssp. contrasting with the vivid flowers results in a light-hearted and playful effect. I find a lot of appeal in it.

Field juniper on deer skull.
The antlers echoing the shari of the juniper, it's just perfect. I wish I saw this bonsai in real life, the contrast between life and death must be much more powerful. Stunning work.

Field juniper
The graceful trunk and branches seem to be alive. The tree has naturalness and subdued beauty, so much appreciated in traditional bonsai. But unlike many traditional bonsai, this tree is lively and fluid.

Field juniper with large deadwood base.
What I find interesting in this tree (and so many others created by Nick) is that he makes no attempt for static balance. On the contrary, he wants this tree to be slightly off-balance, moving forward. And doing this, the tree starts moving, comes alive. It is so much more exciting to watch a tree in motion, instead of looking at carefully balanced ones. Could this be the cause of slight boredom when looking at a catalogue of hundreds of magnificent Japanese masterpieces? The fact that most of them are meticulously balanced?

Grape pelicanThis tree probably takes the prize for being spectacular and outrageous. Stunning.

Hinoki cypress.The two dead branches with their jagged movements are sharp, aggressive. It's 100% adrenalin.

Larix laricina Alien Gobble
I believe that this should be up there with Picasso's Guernica or Much's "The Scream". At least Picasso had the freedom to use paint and brush. Nick only had a tree to express it all.
Now I need a break..

Author:  Attila Soos [ Tue Jul 05, 2005 5:06 pm ]
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Part three..
Larix laricina root over rock.The tree lounges forward like a dragon. The jagged little jins enhance the dragon-like appearance. Those are the permanent features.

The fresh new foliage of the larch adds vigour and exhuberance.

Larix laricina and the ruins
This is one of my all time favorites. The embodiment of loneliness and reminiscence over the passage of time. Very romantic, it brings back memories of my teenage years when I was heartbroken from the pain of lost love. And we used to have lots of those walls, so the effect is amplified by the similarity with my hometown. I really envy the person who owns this bonsai.

Larix laricina downhill skier
Somewhat similar to the Malus ssp. But the use of the slope and sharp bends in the trunk combined with the arm-like branches clearly suggest the high speed of the skier. How many bonsai have you seen lately that so successfully suggest the adrenalin rush of high speed? I wanted to say "truly unique", but then I realized how silly this statement is, in light of this review.

Larix laricina with the karate figurineThis is a powerful tree but somewhat lacks a defining feature so characteristic of Nick's other works. So, the figurine manages to focus my attention to the lower trunk area, where the power of the tree originates from. Take away the figurine, and the energy is lost. Many of us will call it kitschy (might even Nick be amongst those). It works wonderfully for me. Shame on me, have I lost all sense of decency! Or I am too mesmerized by the artist's suggestive power, to the point where kitsch takes on the appearance of art.

Pitch pine
Absolutely gorgeous trunk, crown,...everything! Don't you dare to tell me that you would change it in any way!

Juniperus sclopulorum - literati/semi cascade
This tree is ready to pounce. The deadwood is charged with the static energy of a spring compressed to the limit.

Juniperus sclopulorum
An giant and old tree on a windy hill. Great landmark for the travelers passing by.

Author:  Attila Soos [ Tue Jul 05, 2005 7:05 pm ]
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Part four..
Larix laricina - Seasons of her thoughts
This is not a tree, so I dont need to look at trunk, branchese, etc. I think the point of this work is the seasonal change of the foliage, in relation to the human head. A static picture at any point in time doesn't reflect it's essence. It would have been more fitting to have 4 pictures next to each other, reflecting the four seasons. Instead of a bonsai pot, I would rather have used a tall cascade pot, simbolizing the human torso.

Do I like it?

....I'm not sure, haven't made up my mind. I would probably need to be acquainted with the actual work in order to have a definite answer. I think the picture, as it is, is a poor substitute for the real thing.

Larix laricina with gargoyle
This bonsai reminds me of the art of Frank Frazetta, labelled as Fantasy Art. There is a feeling of raw wildness unleashed onto the Earth. Evil creatures lurk everywhere. The tree itself has a wild, threatening look. I have a lot of fun taking in the scenery.

Juniperus chinensis
The beauty of this tree lies in the rhytmic movement and grace of the trunk. The foliage underlines the rhytm. I really like the contrast of white deadwood with the vivid green.

Larix laricina
The skier got tired and became a tree again. The decorative nebari lends great stability to the greeting figure.

Larix laricina root over rock
Never seen such a perfect harmony between tree and rock. One of my top five picks.

Larix laricina with tank
The naturalness and spontaneity of this forest is unmached. The presence of the tank intriques me. My eyes keep jumping back and forth between the tank and the towering giant trees.

Root over gargoyle
I am drawn into the deadly struggle between the gargoyle and the roots. The drama of the image is taken to the extreme and it works wonderfully.

Acer buergerianum
Too bad I can't see clearly the details of this magnificent tree. There is so much drama and movement going within the lower trunk of the tree, I wish I could see it all.

I don't really see a coherent relationship between the peaceful image of the boy laying under the tree and the dramatic contortions of the trunk.
Very intriguing!

Larix laricina - Two legged walkers
You've lost me on this one. Could it be just an exploration of formal relationships (formal as in "between forms")? Or is it more to it, which I am ignorant of?

This is another puzzling work (the other one is the larix above). I see a tree-monster walking, but the picture is too small to have any impact on me.

Well, I have to say that it was an exhausting experience, trying to put into words what I see in these trees. But, doing this, I have learned a lot of things about the way I see bonsai. More than anyone reading my ramblings. Some of the things I had to say made me unconfortable, but that's part of the inner exploration.

I was familiar with Nick's work before, but not to the extent shown here. I have to say, I am blown away by his imagination and artistry. I've never imagined in my wildest dreams that so many things can be expressed with bonsai, and with so much force.

I think Nick Lenz single handedly expanded the scope of bonsai art to realms untouched by anyone in the world. I am very grateful to him and those who put this gallery together.

Author:  Carl Bergstrom [ Tue Jul 05, 2005 7:32 pm ]
Post subject:  Re:

I'll try to provide a few thoughts of my own, in response to yours.
The Rhododendron ssp. with its stark red-white contrast, smooth egg-like pot and the flat oval shape, gives me a sense of pleasure and liveliness.

I saw this tree in person a couple of months ago, and while it may not immediately appear to be one of Nick's most radical works, I argue that it is such. For me this tree was perhaps the biggest eye-opener in all of Nick's garden. It's now even broader than it was in the picture; the canopy is a low flat ovoid shape that spreads out, many times wider than it is tall, over the "bedpan" pot. What struck me about this piece was the form - it was perfectly balanced, but unlike anything I'd ever seen. It's not a banyan style or a live oak style or anything we'd conventionally associate with a naturalistic wider-than-tall form, instead, it's just a piece of sculpture that absolutely works in its own right.
The composition is also more open-ended than certain of Nick's other innovations. Take "Root Over Penelope." Any "root-over-greek-statue" that anyone creates will simply be a copy of "Root Over Penelope" in the eyes of anyone familiar with the original. But trees that explore this low ovoid form will be much more; people can play off of this design in any number of ways to develop future works of bonsai art.
More soon,

Author:  Andrew Loosli [ Wed Jul 06, 2005 4:42 am ]
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I try to do this 'homework' you have given us. But I will do it my way. This has to do a lot with Nick Lenz ? I do not want to 'work down' his collection tree for tree. In my eyes, the creator himself would then be left in the background. But why say what others have said better? So I quote:
'Now is the winter of our discontent
made glorious summer by this sun of Lenz'

Something alike went through my head when I saw the Lenz collection. 'Lenz' is an old german word for spring. I felt a winter of discontent and I had indeed a spring-feeling at the first sight. How that? We find ourselves in the art of bonsai forum. This means some of you felt the urge to make more out of bonsai. That is why I am here, too. I did not start bonsai because I was impressed by severe style catalogues, but merely because the bonsai people where about the only who could answer my questions on how to keep little trees alive in a pot. In the course of time I sometimes almost forgot this. I was so concerned about learning what 'real bonsai' are, that I forgot what I really had wanted.

What I wanted had to do with the famous art definition Emile Zola gave: 'Art is a subject shown by a temperament' (you may translate 'subject' by thing, matter, topic, issue or item as well). This I will not discuss now, this is just my way, resulting from my life in my environment and so on. Naively I had thought a bonsai pot could very well be the place where you can show subjects as you see them with your temperament. So I took a tupperware pot, put a spruce shaped juniper within and placed a wooden elk figurine behind. This was 'IKEA'. I sat beneath it and started reading books about bonsai. Soon, I shamefully put the juniper back on the balcony, cleaned the elk and forgot about it. It was not bonsai.

I then tried hard to be serious. I visited some exhibitions, three known designers and the local bonsai club. I tried to listen carefully and hold back my temperament. I understood that one should not discuss the rules. That one should not have ideas, but trees. So I went home and tried to be more serious. I bought some prebonsai, dug out three dozen rawlings and planted them in my garden, sure to have real bonsai soon and thus the permission to join the club. Then the winter of my discontent started. I realized I would never be happy no matter how many real bonsai I would have. I missed the elk.

Excuse me. Again I am boring you with my temperament as if I was important. But it is only because of Nick Lenz that you read it. So back to him or rather the Lenz gallery. How mind-opening! Here are the subjects my temperament likes! It all comes up again: The trees growing over the decayed ruins of knight's castles in our hills, rusty tanks you can sometimes see along the former frontlines of WW II, the burned out car in a field, that had for unknwon reasons never been taken away and has a tree growing from the inside and much more. Associations. Free spirit. 'Why not?' answering the question 'why?'. And ? fun. Not the loud plain fun, but the highly intelligent cheerfullness only versatile persons with vivid temperament can have.

Interesting about the 'subject Lenz' is, how other temperaments show him. He is almost always being carefully introduced. 'Excentric, but technically perfect' I have read somewhere. Here you say he is a 'crazy old hermit [?] also perharps the best bonsai artist'. This sounds like: 'Watch out, here will come something strange and maybe shocking but please have a look at it, it's good, too'. Too? I'd say it IS good. It is maybe the most convincing way a western temperament can show the bonsai subject.

Nick Lenz has managed to go around this bonsai-trap of trying to be a very serious copy. Instead he brings into it all exactly that what are probably the most important basics to our art forms: Subjectivity, free association about factual terms, story lines and also cheerfulness here and there. In western art, persons are important, pictures carry names and show issues. While many bonsai designers somehow keep hidden, are the great absents, as if they where afraid it could be unserious to leave a personal trace in their work, Nick Lenz 'simply does it'. With his temperament he builds the illustrations of a rich world, where man has will and imagination. To me this is profoundly western art, overcoming bonsai by integrating it.
And now I will see where my elk wants to go today. Very seriously.

Author:  Attila Soos [ Wed Jul 06, 2005 11:58 am ]
Post subject:  Re:

Andrew Loosli wrote:
It is maybe the most convincing way a western temperament can show the bonsai subject.

It is very interesting that you've brought up the concept of temperament in art. I've just realized that in bonsai forums this concept never comes up. It is probably because when talking about temperament, or "psyche", we are talking about us, humans, and not the trees. In the eyes of many, the trees and only the trees count, and we should never talk about ourselves, that would be counted as vanity and eqotistical.

And yet, temperament is the very reason (besides history, of course) that Western and Eastern arts are so different.

When creating bonsai, we Westerners always try to subdue our temperament, we are trying to understand the Eastern mindset in order to replicate what they do. We talk about Zen and minimalism, wabi-sabi, shinto and kami and the spirits that reside in everything. And we are so proud of ourselves when we think that we understand it all: now we are ready to create a great bonsai.

Nick introduces elements forbidden in traditional bonsai but very close to our heart. It somehow takes away the shame of admitting that we have our own needs of expressing who we are. Isn't it nice that finally somebody is doing it for us? And with style.

Author:  Walter Pall [ Sat Jul 09, 2005 4:07 am ]
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I have made a link to the Nick Lenz gallery on the German Fachforum

The ensuing discussiuons are most enlightening. They are enlightening not so much concernign the individual objects but rather the views of all sorts of people with different frames of mind. As of today we ahd more than 2200 hits already.

The general feeling is that this is most refreshing, most if not all is brilliant. Some people are so exited that they now have an entirely new view on to the art of bonsai and have what they call a 'productive and imaginative phase'.

Some find many objectes brilliant, but some are not so good and even kitsch in their eyes.

Then the notorious bonsai fundamentalists on the German forum find that this is the end of civilization. The rants are aggressive and bitter. One response to these disgustive rants was 'now why are you now starting to GOEBEL AROUND here?' I think this was a particularly brilliant reponse.
Anyway, this gallery leaves no one untouched. Nick is really a well known bonsai artist in Germany by now. My remark in another thread that Nick was 'THE outstanding genuninely American bonsai artist' met with a very negative remark of a well known bonsai fundamentlist. Which I ignore, as usually.

I find all this not only amusing and interesting, I find it quite refreshing. A few years ago there would not have beeen this general aceptance of Nick's work as I see now. I feel that the bonsai insiders in the West have opened considerably in the past couple of years concerning freedom of art in bonsai.

The louder and the more aggressive the fundametalists scream the more it becomes clear that they feel trapped. Ant trapped they are indeed. Gives me a good warm feeling.

Author:  Lisa Kanis [ Sat Jul 09, 2005 9:35 am ]
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Thank you for posting this wonderful collection of Nick Lenz' bonsai. It's the best I have seen so far, in print or on the Net.

What an unbelievably versatile artist he is! I would never try to sum him, or his trees, up in a few words. He, and they, are far too complex for that.
If one gets absorbed by the non-vegetation parts of his compositions, which many appear to do, one misses the message of the totality of the image. It's a pity that what appears extraordinary should shake up people most, when there is so much to see and think about.

Attila, Carl et al, it will take me a while to absorb all you wrote.
Thank goodness it isn't "average", and much makes a lot of sense to me.
Walter, I read the 5 plus pages of the Nick Lenz thread on the German forum and am disappointed by your superficial and very tendentious summary.

Author:  Attila Soos [ Sat Jul 09, 2005 12:58 pm ]
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Thanks Walter for pointing us to the German forum. Since I speak German, I was able to work through the whole thread, what a lively and diverse bunch! Nick has stirred quite a storm here.

One of the comments I've enjoyed:
Ja was ist jetzt mehr Kitsch: Ein Mensch aus dem westlichen Kulturkreis, der sich in seinen Bosch-Garten eine japanische Lampe stellt und jahrelang Bumchen auf japanisch trimmt oder einer, der Sachen aus seiner Welt von Mrchen bis Barbie, von Troll bis Tank - aufgreift und mit Bumchen kombiniert - Andreas Ludwig-

Which basically means:
what is more kitsch?.. a person from a western culture who puts in his garden a Japanese lantern and prunes his little trees year-round the Japanese way, or one who takes things like fairy tales, Barbies, tanks, etc..from his own world and combines with little trees?
Great way of putting things in perspective.

Author:  Carl Bergstrom [ Sat Jul 09, 2005 1:56 pm ]
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Thanks for the link, Walter (and thanks for getting that thread started in the first place.) By sewing together my own very limited German and the seemingly even more limited translation ability of Babelfish, I managed to make my way through the entire thread. Both the intensity and diversity of reactions speak to Nick's success as an artist.
Thank you also Attila for the fine tranlation of Andreas Ludwig's remark. He has a very good point.
With my best regards,

Author:  Lisa Kanis [ Sat Jul 09, 2005 11:45 pm ]
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Well, I'm not going to select other bits from the German forum to translate, so as to show some other points of view. It would be like battling each other with bible texts to prove a point of faith. There is something else I would rather write.

I don't know if any of you have had the privilege of seeing Nick Lenz actually creating one of his out-of-the-ordinary bonsai. Well, I have. He came to Sydney in 2000, on the occasion of the national AABC Seminar. During his demonstration, he styled a European hornbeam as a classical, informal upright - and then mounted the roots on a shining, blue bowling ball. The purpose of his unconventional demo, he explained, was to encourage people to break free from the stagnating concepts of creating bonsai, to use initiative, to venture into a new bonsai world. (In brief)
Some people thought his "roots over bowling ball" amusing, some thought his approach interesting or refreshing, others found it inspiring and still others rejected it. Much as could be expected.

For my part, I hated it. Not the bonsai creation, nor the point of view. But I hated being told what I should do. I knew, and still know quite strongly, that bonsai will evolve, regardless of who tries to hold it back, or what "progressive" artists preach. Therefore I find all this propaganda for change perfectly useless. And I won't be lectured on how I should think, or how I should approach the styling of my trees, unless I ask for advice. Nor will I be swayed by what the majority thinks, and if that earns me the biased, ridiculous epithet of "notorious bonsai fundamentalist", I couldn't care less.

Some trees we style with the idea that others might like to see them, at our place or at shows. But some we style for ourselves, because that's the way the wind of inspiration blows. We don't have to be defensive about them. They are not meant for the enjoyment of others, nor are they meant to teach anyone anything. The opinions of the viewers don't matter in the least. I think that certain of Nick Lenz' trees belong in that category.
Have fun, guys.

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