In pursuit of small trees
The appearance of this slim, tall figure, with medium length black hair, sunglasses and silver necklace could be to blame to make you think Marco Invernizzi (32) was some sort of Latin playboy, but where Marco and I met was not a fancy Italian restaurant in Ginza, but a small Bonsai shop. As soon as he arrived, Invernizzi took a look around the shop, This is pretty interesting he says as he points to a Goyomatsu (Japanese White Pine) with its roots tangled onto a rock and its trunk taking a very strong, sharp curve. 'There's one just like this in Morioka, the Pine's growing right on the edge of a cliff, with a small tree just below it. I love seeing trees that are challenging the severe world of nature'.
To Invernizzi, who makes Milan the base for his work, Bonsai is not an extension of gardening, but an art form. 'Italy has long since had a culture in stone. Once you make a stone building or statue, it'll remain the same for hundreds of years' he says. By that basis, he sees in the never-completed art form of Bonsai, that which isn't possible in the world of Michelangelo's and Raphael's, where the Bonsai will grow and change along with the artist themselves, and even when passed onto another, will continue to evolve for possibly hundreds of years. 'It's an art where you take a statue, and give it the fourth dimensional element of time.'
A bonsai he has had since he was 16 is still continuing its 4th dimensional evolution in his studio in Milan (a Ficus that his mother gave him for Christmas). At the time he saw the movie 'Karate Kid 3' on TV, and where most boys would have been enthralled with the Karate, he fell in love at first sight of the Bonsai that the Karate master Mr. Miyagi was nurturing. 'It struck my heart, and I knew that instant that this is the art for me.'
In the 17 years since then, he has been pouring his passion into bonsai. After becoming a Bonsai artist in Milan, Italy, he came to Japan at the age of 21 to train under in Marco's words - 'The world's number one master' Masahiko Kimura as his very first foreign apprentice for four years. 'He's dexterous and smart, most importantly he has the sensitivity needed for it.' Kimura tells us 'The resolution needed to come from abroad to train is immense. It was as if resting even for a day would be a waste.'
7 years since his return, Invernizzi still loyally obeys his master's ways. His style is still at base, a very traditional Japanese style. What's important isn't new looks and styles, but 'using the inspiration I get from nature to create an old ancient looking tree which will express by love and affascination for Mother nature, who remain the best bonsai master in the universe' he says.
But at the same time, Invernizzi has the feeling that he is meant to take bonsai to the future. His websites created in '07 have pages of himself in Astronaut suits, Flamenco costumes, and other various outfits. 'The traditional Bonsai person may not appreciate the humor in my website, but there is an important reason for this' Invernizzi says 'I want the younger generations to be attracted to and appreciate Bonsai so I want everybody to understand that my art is a lot fun' and certainly Marco blows away the old image of the traditional Bonsai artist.
Classes and workshops, from Israel to South Africa, Invernizzi travels around with furious pro-activity. He even says that the Mini-Bonsai and the accent plants made by moss that are rising in popularity in Japan are 'OK as a gateway into the art'. However, his real aspirations lie within 'seeing matured trees' and 'having its basis within a natural concept'. Not just any nature, but that which is found fighting for survival at the top of a mountain in a harsh and oddly shaped landscape.
For inspiration, he takes time out to travel in search of rare or unusual trees. During our interview he showed us a picture he took during his travels to Madagascar this summer. A Baobab tree in a large plain land, looking as if to stretch its hand towards the heavens. When asked if this could be a Bonsai, he answered 'this is a species of tree which is hard to make into bonsai, and it's certainly can be considered a challenge'..but I like challenge, actually is my Master's favourite word'
The time when a Bonsai like that is acknowledged around the world, perhaps Bonsai art will take its next evolutionary step to the future.
BONSAI Fever Sweeping Around the World
In recent years Bonsai fever has been sweeping the globe. According to trade statistics, the sum total of all Bonsai trees (both for planting and potting) has risen from 845 million yen in 2002 to 5.1 billion yen in 2007. This is attributed not only to the growing number of fans in China (thanks to its growing economy), but also to Europe and USA, where we already have a large fan base. Every year in London, the Chelsea Flower Show (one of the handful of gardening shows of its kind in the world) has opened a Bonsai section, and in Belgium there is a Bonsai event 'The Ghinko Award' held once every two years, leading to a growth in fans and amateurs proudly showing off their creations.
In America there are over 300 Bonsai organizations, and around October 11th ~ 12th the first 'All American Bonsai show' was held in Rochester, New York. Previously unseen personal collections were amongst the 200 shown, some of which included those from the famous Golden State Bonsai Federation and even some from the Chicago Botanic Gardens. 'The passion for the art is growing ever stronger' organizer William Valavanis says. 'Our country is so large that transporting all of the Bonsai has been tough work, but it was everyone's dream to make it a reality.'
Perhaps it won't be a long wait until a World Bonsai Championship will be held!