Surrealism in Bonsai

Does anyone have any well developed examples of surrealism in bonsai design or any artists I should be following? I think this is a style that has a lot of potential and I have an ugly duckling or two in my collection that I would like to attempt something with. looking for inspiration.


Like this? I think it will matter how you define " surrealism" for you to find what your looking for.

Do you want your tree to have all three or one of the objective criteria feature the element of surprise, unexpected juxtapositions, and/or non sequiturs?

Honestly I think traditional Japanese style already walks this line but is checked by balance and harmony if you remove those constraints it will slide into surrealism.

As for the way Ryan objectively defines “design”, the dynamic tree is the structure setting for surrealism to me and the amount you push foliage/pads/billows is the throttle for surrealism. Dynamic structure is probably the best objective structure if chasing surrealism. With such a small percentage meeting the pre requisitions for dynamic design I am not surprised we don’t see a bunch


Thanks for your detailed reply and insight. I think the material I have meets the objective design points you make. I can’t help but wonder also if there is some of that juxtaposition to be found in the discontinuity between a more harmonious structure and the feeling of unease elicited by the over all execution.

I believe it’s worth pursuing and finding out! How about a failed graft that has two distinct sections of different color flowers( see below). How about a dwarf Alberta spruce when it reverts back to non dwarf foilage? Just thought I’d toss a few examples out there that came to mind

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I immediately thought of this setup I saw online a while ago. Apparently it’s from the ‘Avant Garden’ exhibition at the Pacific Bonsai Musuem.

Here’s the post with some other trees:


Laurent Darieux

International Bonsai Art & Culture Biennial 2014 – Valavanis Bonsai Blog

Or search for “ Takanori Aiba bonsai”

So those look surreal to me, would you agree?


Have you looked at the work of Nick Lenz? He created some pretty surreal stuff.
2019 show in DC
Unfortunately, Mr. Lenz passed away last year, but there are images of his work all over the internet. Ask around, and you may be able to find out where his trees are now.


Wow this is amazing, definitely!

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Yes, and you know what, I don’t even know how he didn’t cross my mind when I thought about this the other day! Nick’s work is amazing and I can really see his influence in David Crust’s work.

And I share your admiration for surrealism and pushing the boundaries of bonsai (which we should). Although before I attempt it I have to become good at regular bonsai.

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Not sure what the artist’s name is, but this is pretty close (instagram link), at least insofar as just how the tree is shaped.

Michael Hagedorn probably comes closest to Surrealism, with trees planted in rock pots on their side, trees planted in the air on welded chains,, or bonsai stands that require two tables to properly display.

There’s also this singular example from David De Groot.

You’ll also find some wacky creations in Chinese penjing, though I’d argue those are more Hyperrealism than Surrealism.

There’s also an artist that builds little wooden towns in bonsai tree canopies, though I’m not sure if those are real trees or just Photoshop. I am personally working on an actually Surrealist bonsai, but it will be some years before I can actualize most of my vision for it.

You could also look at the Pacific Bonsai Museum’s instagram page. They post some AI generated bonsai that are actually Surrealist, and could potentially be good ideas for real bonsai.

Dave creek I believe