Bonsai artists have to have patience: their medium is growing and constantly changing. Most
people were introduced to bonsai by the Karate Kid’s Mr. Miyagi, but bonsai culture is alive
and well outside of the movies. Like any art form, it has its stars and envelope pushers.
Here are a half-dozen of the world’s most creative and skilled modern bonsai artists.
Masahiko Kimura shares a name with the famous judo practitioner whose brutal joint locks
earned him worldwide fame. But the bonsai artist Kimura (no relation) is equally well known
to his peers. He first began to study a bonsai in order to please his mother. He made his name
in the industry because of the way he was able to shape deadwood. He is known for his cutting
edge work and for challenging tradition with his designs.
Ben Oki is bonsai artist to the stars. A landscaper and gardener with a business degree from one
of Japan’s most prestigious business schools, he has created gardens for movie stars like
Cybil Shepherd. All his work shows his early classical training. Oki studied under modern bonsai’s
original master, John Naka (see below). His gardens and bonsai designs are more classical than
someof the other artists on this list. He has received numerous awards both in the US and Japan.
has even had an award named after himself, the Ben Oki International Design Award.
Lindsey Bebb is one of Australia’s foremost bonsai artists. He has been shaping miniature trees
for nearly 40 years and has built a successful business around his work, running the only fully
accredited bonsai retail shop in Australia. Unlike some of the others on this list, color plays a
major part in Bebb’s work. Many of his miniature trees have flowers or leaves with hues that
fall outside of the usual green and grey color spectrums. His trees have a fuller, more natural
look because of the leaves.
Quinquan Zhou is most famous for creating penjing (miniature landscapes that combine bonsai
with soil, foliage, and rock). Most people are probably more familiar with this Chinese art than
the art of bonsai itself. These landscapes have been seen in classical Chinese paintings for ages.
Born near the Yangtze River in Central China, Zhou has traveled around Europe, the Pacific Rim,
and the Americas teaching and designing. He has published books on penjing and is known for
giving live demonstrations that children find especially entertaining. He is also known for
pioneering the use of marble in his designs to evoke the mountain scenery for which Central
and Southern China are so famous.
Robert Steven is one of Indonesia’s most famous bonsai artists. He is known for his somewhat
avant guarde approach to penjing and bonsai. His work does not have the same picturesque
qualities that characterizes some of the others on this list. Still, it would be a stretch to call him
“bonsai’s bad boy.” He has won major mainstream awards including the Ben Oki International
Design Award. Steven is quite active in the bonsai scene in Indonesia. In fact, the art has
gained a foothold on the archipelago and has become a popular form of classical art.
The late John Naka was the most famous American bonsai artist of his time. Though he was
born in the US, he returned to Japan to study bonsai at a very young age. He was the darling
of the American bonsai scene for much of the 1950s and 60s. His most recognizable work,
Goshin, still sits at the US National Arboretum. It consists of 11 impossibly straight juniper trees.