Nick Lenz is an American bonsai artist. Some of his best known trees are the combination of the statue of Penelope, embraced by a Larch, and the Devil’s Cedar, a Northern White Cedar with deadwood that gives the impression of a devils’ head. Both bonsai give an out of this world / fairy tale impression that is so characteristic for Lenz’ trees. He once commented on his own style -paraphrasing- “Now that I have gotten pretty good at this bonsai thing, what can I do with it?”. The result has been an endless supply of weird combos, depicting a fantasy world where traditional art and bonsai come together.
To honor his career, some friends of his together with the USA National Arboretum in Washington DC staged an exhibition of a number of his trees and pots. This exhibition took place from October 26th to November 17th 2019. I had the luck of seeing the show in the last weekend it took place.
Some of the images I took below.
Nick Lenz’ bonsai vision
When looking at the images it is important to realize one thing. In his work, Lenz tried to convey the natural style for the tree in a harsh landscape. Often in Bonsai we see that very old, rough looking trunks are collected. Over the years these trunks are given a perfectly styled green canopy. To Lenz, this is a contrast too big to be realistic.
When they grow a trunk with loads of deadwood and rough bark, trees grow in harsh environments. As such, the canopy should reflect this. Irregular branches, holes in the canopy and small amounts of foliage all indicative of trees barely clinging to life are part of his signature. And of course… Each tree has a little story to tell, whether it is a merger with a statue or deadwood carved to look like a ghost.
Outside around the entrance to the special exhibit, a miniature ruin and a juniper growing out of a “potatoe”
The display, well lit out and giving each tree enough space to be enjoyed on its own
One of Lenz’ best known trees, a Western White Cedar, collected in 1991. Like most trees in the exhibit, this tree is no longer in his care. Note the full canopy, versus the original styling on the older picture. I wonder whether Lenz would approve..
My personal favorite and one of the most iconic trees that got me into bonsai originally. A larch in warm embrace of a statue of Penelope. This tree was grown in the garden with the statue buried for many years.
This may have been the biggest surprise for me. This elm growing through a car must have taken over a decade to grow out through the tree. No matter how I searched, I can only come to the conclusion that the bulk of this tree was developed with the car in place. Amazing eye for detail, with even the bones of the driver still in the car!