In conversation with Mr. Lin
Mr. Lin is explaining why he started planting bonsai trees in old Chinese liquor bottles. “Both bonsai tree and old ceramic bottle have their own personalities that grow with time. Marrying these two lifeforms together completes my art.” It is hard to think of an argument against this.
From a layman perspective, you will be forgiven to think a liquor bottle as an object and therefore lifeless. And just like you, I had the same thought before meeting Mr. Lin. Not until, I see it first hand, how he brings these apparently lifeless bottles into life with bonsai art.
We are either side of a tea table in a purposely built small tea room on the roof top of Mr. Lin’s house in Anxi, China. Anxi, of course, is a town in south China that is renowned for growing Tieguanyin (aka Iron Goddess). I first heard about Mr. Lin from a local tea producer who shared the story of a talented but rather unusual artist in town with me - and I couldn’t resist to find out myself.
Mr Lin is considered to be a pioneer in the field of bonsai landscape with liquor bottle. Before the mass-production of now ubiquitous glass bottles for liquors, there were individually crafted ceramic bottles of various shapes and sizes in China. Every bottle is unique and often with imperfections, but it is these imperfections that inspired Mr. Lin. “I have been collecting various bottles because I admire the aesthetic beauty of the ceramic material, and how they change colour and shape, sometimes in the form of cracks, over time.” Curiously, there I find the similarity of his admiration for ceramics to that of a teapot collector.
Mr Lin is famous for maintaining a vast collection of artefact - so many items in fact it has turned his three-storey house into an impromptu museum locally. Many visitors from the Anxi region come to see his bonsai and collections of items that once was thought to be worthless and would most likely have been thrown out as rubbish. But not him. He treats each and every item with respect. As we walk around his house, he spots a waterwheel in the bonsai that is not turning, and immediately turned to fix the issue.
Bonsai is a time-intensive art form. Trees need to be carefully watered daily in the summer months and at least once a week in the winter. On top of that, each tree needs sufficient sun light, not too much and not too little, to thrive. At his veranda, a series of bonsai trees are lined up to soak up their daily dosage of sunlight. To shape a bonsai tree into the desired form takes even more dedication and time - one has to painstakingly trim, prune each branch to slowly grow into shape. “It’s about finding the balance of natural shape of the tree and that of the bottle.” he maintains.
Each bonsai landscape has its own natural proportions. It is at that point I realised that all the beautifully created landscapes in his house appeared natural to my eyes because each and every one of them have been carefully looked after by Mr. Lin to grow into their ‘natural’ proportions.
Mr. Lin Ruiwen is a local bonsai artist and antique collector living in Anxi, China.
Note: the term Bonsai (a Japanese term adopted into English) is used interchangeably to describe Penzai in this article. Penzai is the traditional art form of landscapes in miniature originated in China and later brought to Japan.