The Calligrapher, The Books and the reasoning

calligrapher at NoelandersIn 2008 Sandro Segneri one of the invited artists at this years Noelanders Trophy was in my garden. Sandor was working at the Burrs workshop and was taking time out.

When he saw this Yew Sandro was drawn to the sweeping curves of the deadwood and likened the movement of the tree to calligraphy. I find it pretentious in naming your own trees, however I liked the name Sandro gave to this bonsai.

Finding the correct pot for this tree has not been an easy task, the tree has been potted in a number of different containers. Last year Erik Križovenský from Slovakia attended one of my workshops. He brought this unusual pot for me, it was not made especially but when I saw it I considered it to be an interesting match with this tree.

The Space available to pot the root ball is quite small, planted 18 months prior to the Noelanders trophy this tree would need to be transferred to a larger pot soon after the event.

In deciding how the tree would be presented I needed to consider the strange pot, the unusual style of the tree and its name. Terry Foster and I worked with a number of different tables and none really suited the tree. We decided to look for inspiration in the many bonsai exhibition books that I have. As we waded through the pile of books nothing presented itself as a suitable option. It was then that we noticed that pile of books and wondered if these in fact could be our table.

The original idea was to wrap the books with white covers, this would make the publications anonymous however it simply did not work. In deciding to use the books ‘as is’ made my job easier and the choice of books is key to the idea. If you look carefully at the spine of each book they all form the background to the styling of the tree.

Once this decision was made the choice of accompanying planting or supporting objects needed to be considered. An accent plant or something else, the choice of Calligraphic brushes and ink stone seemed the obvious choice.

On presenting the tree for photography at the event I was very happy with the selection of books and the colours of the binding.

The tree or should I say the display was received well with most liking what I present and making a point of telling me… and a few really not getting it!

close up of the the tree

I ventured opinions from those I valued, Peter Warren was candid stating “the focus is on the books and not the tree, even though the tree is good” and I admit on reflection he is right! Everyone talked about the books… and no mention of the tree.

When considering an unusual display the quality of the tree must be excellent and not play second fiddle and I fear this may have happened. However I was surprised that the display did not look out of place, and was somewhat disappointed that more folk did not rage against it. My old friend Bill Bailey did not mince his words “I don’t like it… but I AM a traditionalist” I also overheard this comment “if I wanted to see books I would have gone to a library” I take comfort in the words of Oscar Wilde “There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.”  And nobody talked about the ‘other’ tree I had in the show so I guess there IS merit in what I did.

14 comments on “The Calligrapher, The Books and the reasoning

  1. Hi Tony
    I’m thrilled to see more people taking up the challenges of presenting bonsai as art and not just repetition of what looks good. Wonderfully done, imaginative, broadening the story and bringing it into the present, even if it is ‘calligraphy’- that ancient art form still being practiced.


  2. A reblogué ceci sur petit-arbreet a ajouté:
    La présentation de Tony Tickle au Noelanders Trophy 2014 dont on a déjà parlé et qui semble plutôt bien appréciée.
    Tony exposait également un autre arbre l’aviez-vous remarqué ? Je l’ai aussi vu au bout de la même rangée où était cet if. Alors vous voyez lequel est-ce ?


  3. Either considering everything you wrote, and in the place of someone who could not attend the show, I only confess you the first thought that came to my mind when I saw the picture on facebook some days ago, knowing the tree and its name:

    “What a brilliant idea! You nailed it Tony, you realy did”

    João Santos


  4. Hi Tony
    I was very happy to see your yew exposed the way it was.
    Your display (and others before a.e. prunus spinosa and barbed wire) is giving Bonsai a new dimension, not only writing and discussing about: Bonsai as an Art ! You are one of the few artists trying to show this artistic properties of bonsai trees through a conceptual vision of the display. Many of the traditional presentations drop down in a conformist formalism, not talking to the audience
    I am looking forward with a pleasent anticipation to the Burrs show 2015


  5. Dear Tony,We did not have some time to sit together at the Tropy ,I was quite busy but I went back several times to have a loock at your composition.Maybe people have to get used to something different,to the unexpected.I like it,because it was not just a bonsai on some books.It would be easier for me to explain my feelings in French or Dutch
    .in my poor English I would say: there was some harmony,I liked it,the image was complete .Go on,just dare even if not everybody likes it.You like it,that’s important,and moreover, it was admitted at the Noelanders,so more people liked it.
    Congratulations Tony


  6. I love the tree and the pot, but for me they dont work with the books. The tree is ravaged…and the books just too new and colorful. They dont marry well.
    The pot though in the style of the tree for me evokes a modern, abstract feeling.
    I would have used something very simple…modern…


  7. Reblogged this on Stone Monkey Ceramics and commented:
    A brilliant article on Tony’s Noelanders display this year, pushing boundaries and challenging tradition I personally like the idea and got the message what the display was intending to portray


  8. I love it. The book-stack does halt the eye, but I feel more due to its originality, & less because it doesn’t compliment the composition. See it, acknowledge that its arresting, & then revisit it – We’re so used to seeing tables & stands, & that’s not necessarily a good thing.
    I do think it would work better on a black, or more subdued colour of table – the blue seems an odd choice for me. A black background would’ve complimented the set up too.
    Very refreshing.


  9. Hi Tony,
    I wanted to tell you that I found your setup for the Taxus baccata the best display among all the setups I’ve seen ( the Noelander Trophy XV )
    At that time I was not sure if it just me that’s reading too much out of it, but I keep going back to look at the display.

    Now after reading your post, it just confirmed my initial thoughts :
    The calligraphic lines of the trunk, Erik’s pot that complements the tree just right.
    The use of books as a stand and which also highlights a connection towards a calligraphic theme.

    And lastly the two fude and the suzuri used as accents instead of a shitakusa or suiseki completed a calligraphic themed scene for me.

    I am just a bit disappointed that their was no sumi sticks resting on the suzuri.

    But overall this display will stay in my mind as the best display for the Noelander Trophy XV.
    Thanks again for sharing this and this little history of the tree.


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