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Art Critique

Critique: The Innovative Saikei

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By Charles Bevan, USA

Taxodium distichum

Taxodium distichum
Bald Cypress

Trunk Diameter: 26" from soil line
Trunk height: 21" from soil line
Pot length: 32"
Pot color: White (Marble Tray)



A little breath
A green shoot thrusting through the snow
Ice-crusted, part-crushed,
But astonishing green
From crouching, dark desolation
Secret root resistance crept
Radiant defiance
At slightest thaw springs
A forgiveness of melting
One trickling drop of icicle
Rolls down the prisoner's grey face
Now he will clamor with the dawn chorus
And dare to shout out

-Louise Rill, epoems.org


In the world's endeavors to represent vast scenes on a miniature, three-dimensional, living scale (Saikei), stones are often used to symbolize mountains, small plants are regularly manipulated to signify immense trees, sand is generally utilized to suggest sand, and water is repeatedly intended to mimic water. Examples diverging from this practice are considered a rarity, and many times criticized by traditionalists. Artistically, however, it is not necessary to use a miniature version of a depicted scene for the media of a saikei. In fact, doing so could be regarded as ignorance of the potential media that could possibly be utilized in this art form.

This composition, created by Jim VanLandingham, recognizes the fact that a stone does not need to represent a stone. Instead, VanLandingham has manipulated one tree to characterize a confident mountain with a small number of youthful trees shooting up towards the sky. In addition to this mountain, a portion of the trunk is used to represent a tranquil pond raised atop a grand body of water accompanied by a peaceful and natural tree.

This display epitomizes a joyous spring month that has superseded a tumultuous and wearisome winter. Signs of winter are still apparent in the jagged, white-toned mountain that is represented by deadwood in the trunk of the tree. The small trees perched atop the weathered mountain display fresh and vibrant new growth. They illustrate an aura of happiness for surviving the toilsome winter. The tree that accompanies the pond on the right side of the composition displays branches that are reaching for the sun in a youthful and enthusiastic manner. This enthusiasm is cohesive with the joy of the trees on the mountain. Furthermore, the pond on the right side of the composition sets a tone of serenity, which is often the mood one will encounter when they think of spring.


Reaching, Natural, Youth

A contrast in the texture of the bark between the mountain and the pond is distinguishable. The smooth bark was vital in the portrayal of the pond. If the right side of the trunk were carved to mimic the texture of the mountain, the pond would lose its tranquility. Additionally, if the texture mountain remained smooth, no signs of the past winter would be apparent, which would diminish the artistic message illustrated by the tree.

A small pagoda can be observed near the base of the mountain. It acts as a scale for the rest of the composition. If one were to stand next to this building, it would seem rather large in size. Yet, compared to the mountain above, it is miniscule, making the mountain appear as if it towers thousands of feet above.


A small pagoda can be observed near the base of the mountain.

Could this display be enhanced? The most troublesome component of this composition is the change in scale between the mountain and the pond below. If the tree that stands next to the pond followed the same scale that is defined by the pagoda, it would stand hundreds of feet tall. However, this tree appears to be much smaller than that. To improve the landscape depicted by this tree, VanLandingham should consider placing the right side of the trunk closer to the viewer and the left side further back. This would create a sense of depth in the display, in which the pond is directly in front of the viewer, and the mountain is somewhat to the rear, which would furnish the design with compositional integrity.

In closing, Jim VanLandingham could be considered a pioneer of representing nature’s scenes in the miniature. This piece recognizes that it is not essential to use a stone to represent a mountain or water to symbolize a pond in saikei. Instead, this display proves that there is a plethora of media that could conceivably be used for saikei.

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