Take one look at Japanese artist Takanori Aiba’s tiny kingdom sculptures, where entire miniature communities are built around bonsai trees, and you’ll feel like Gulliver stepping foot on the imaginary land of Lilliput.
The Japanese art of bonsai is a painstaking, meticulous process using cultivation techniques like pruning, root reduction, potting, defoliation and grafting to produce small trees contained in little pots, which mimic the shape and style of mature, full-sized trees.
The artist has not only perfected this technique of miniaturisation, but also added scale models of windmills, lighthouses, boats, cars, statues, and even the Michelin Man to create three-dimensional dream island resorts featuring miniature villages.
He has combined bonsai with Lilliputian architecture, and his creations teem with activity, amazing stories and unique characters.
Takanori’s creations are shaped by his early experience of drawing, bonsai-making, model railway-making, the magical world of Walt Disney and maze illustration. Since young, he has had a fascination with small things and would warp himself into imaginary worlds; as an adult, he has succeeded in making those fantasies come true.
He recalls: “I often went to the hill behind my house to pick uniquely shaped maple branches. Staring at the branch created some sort of illusion, as if I were a Lilliputian, relating to the island in Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels.
“A small branch became a giant tree. Techniques of how to expand my imagination and expression were already cultivated at an early age. When I was 14 years old, I went into raptures over Disney’s TV shows. I drew inspiration from their settings like Sleeping Beauty’s castle, Frontierland and the Nautilus from 20,000 Leagues under the Sea.”
After building a career as a maze illustrator and interior architect for 30 years, he decided to return to his primary source of creativity –his childhood fantasies – to create Lilliputian artworks. He says: “I never forgot my dream where I created my own original theme park, like Walt Disney did. These works are a part of my dreams, and I believed that these models could be realised.”
Today, he has been crafting mini-universes wrapped around bonsai trees for close to a decade, thus proposing a modern take on this traditional Japanese art form representing harmony between man and nature. None of his designs are constructed based on real structures.
Yet these fantastical visions have a realist feel, with their lifelike and intricate details, so much so that some may be led to think that they are copies of actual buildings or could even be transformed into life-sized mansions and holiday resorts.
Takanori describes his creative process: “These works each have their own motif and story, but there is a common ‘resorts’ for the mind by using the bonkei principle.
“For example, The Rock Island and The Lighthouse series are based on suiseki that often uses bonsai rocks. I usually start by abstracting and mixing the keywords of a resort like ‘branch’, ‘rock’, box’. Hawaiian Pineapple Resort is based on an antique pineapple can. I abstracted ‘Hawaiian Resort’ from this pineapple can, and mixed in the keywords of a Hawaiian resort like ‘banyan tree’, ‘beautiful ocean’ and ‘golf course’. After picking up keywords, I join them and add stories, like this golf course has 18 holes, the at the top of the can, each hole is along the can’s curve, etc.”
The handcrafted sculptures, made using craft paper, plastic, clay, wood, steel, plaster, resin, paint, glue and an X-Acto knife, are the result of a collaboration between Takanori and model-maker Kazuya Murakami. Takanori begins with a main themes and structure, then Kazuya produces a series of study models.
Kazuya does not use any architectural drawings like plans or sections, because Takanori’s imagination is interprets and reproduces Takanori’s ideas based on his civil engineering and architectural background, and aesthetic sensibility. The discuss whether the physical prototype matches the original mood or direction, from countless solutions.
Enquiries for sale of sculptures here: http://www.tokyogoodidea.com/contact/
This was originally published in Home & Decor Singapore.