Francois Jeker answers questions on bonsai and his art.
1) Francois, it’s great to have you as a demonstrator at the 4th Africa Bonsai Convention (ABC4) in 2015 in South Africa. Will this be your first visit to Africa?
I was several times in North Africa, but never in the South. But I’m looking forward to visit your country. Some of my friends who regularly spend holidays in your country, tell me that it’s the most beautiful in the world…
2) You seem to have bridged the cultural divide in bonsai between different countries and your work is appreciated in different parts. What do you think about the different approaches to bonsai and is there one you prefer?
In Japan, there are many different ways to practice the art of bonsai. Of course, it’s the same in the rest of the world. But the meaning of our art is the same, all over the world. We love nature, we respect nature, we try to show the wonderful creativity of nature and we try to find a harmony with nature.
To do that, we need to work with a maximum of freedom and we should not be locked into the Japanese tradition.
3) Looking at the trees and innovative displays in the latest Bonsai Focus it seems as if you have struck gold. Where do you find the real gold you use?
In France, it is easy to find : a lot of artisans and artists use gold leaf.
4) How would you describe your bonsai philosophy?
Practicing bonsai is to learn to accept with happiness all the rules of nature, and the first of them, is time passing. Our time is not the time of our trees. That means that we never are the owner of our trees. We just live with them a short time, after they will continue to live with other people.
5) What is your favourite bonsai quote? (Your own is right up there with the best – “we are spending lots of time trying to reduce the size of our trees, whereas our trees spend as much time to elevate us”.)
I also like a sentence of John NAKA who told me “ if you believe that you are working on a tree, you did not understand the art of bonsai. It’s the tree who’s working on you…”
6) It took great courage to take over from Peter Adams but your designs in the Bonsai Focus magazine is really looking good. Of all the art forms you participate in, is there one you prefer?
I prefer bonsai, it’s the most difficult because it’s never finished. The tree is alive and you have to follow the tree. And to learn humility!
7) Do you have any specific species and style that you prefer?
I prefer to work on Buxus. I believe that’s the best tree in Europe for bonsai. But I also like spruce, taxus and pinus sylvestris.
8) What would your advice be to a beginner in bonsai?
Not to work with a lot of cheap little trees but to work immediately with a good yamadori, even if it’s expensive. And to work that tree with somebody who has a good experience. To avoid to waste a lot of time and to have much more pleasure quickly.
9) What was your biggest mistake when you started in bonsai?
Try to go to fast with a tree. We have to learn patience. The best quality of a bonsai is to be healthy.
10) Have you had any serious injuries from bonsai such as a scissors elbow or something?
My yamadori’s are too heavy! So my back is a little bit fragile.
11) What gave you the most pleasure in your bonsai career so far?
This morning to see all my trees so healthy.
12) You have a big interest in calligraphy, painting and ceramics. Is there some golden thread that runs through all of it?
The search of beauty and pleasure to share that beauty with other human being.
13) Is there one bonsai artist that you follow and will recommend to others?
Everything important about bonsai is written in John NAKA’s books. I also learned a lot of things with Pius Notter, mainly the respect of nature.
14) Can you see from a bonsai tree if the artist is an introvert or an extrovert?
Not really, but I’m able to recognize a tree made by a real bonsai artist. It’s like a Van Gogh or Fransisco Goya : it’s easy to recognize their personality in their works.
15) Are you planning on travelling in South Africa after the convention or is it straight home?
I don’t know yet. If I have enough time, yes. But I’d like to find good rocks to put gold on it…
*Questions posed by Willem Pretorius.