By Jerry Meislik
One of the common bonsai styles is the bunjin or literati style. Despite many, many articles attempting to describe the essence of this style there is still a profusion of mis-statement and confusion regarding this design.
I am not going to go into the massive amount of information of the history on this style or the numerous attempts to describe the style as an essence, a feeling, a mood etc.......
Bunjin can be any style, windswept, cascading, upright etc. The key factore is that the design has a dominant and commanding "LINE". By that I mean the key, outstanding and pervasive aspect of the design must be a line; usually the line described by the trunk of the tree. If this line is obscured, hidden or de-emphasized the tree becomes a non-literati design and may be whatever conventional description of the tree as cascade, formal upright etc.
To illustrate I am going to take a juniper of my friend Ash Barnes of Australia and change the image to illustrate the above points.
In a second example Tom Simonyi, bonsai artist and teacher, of West Virginia obtained an Acacia cyanophylla as an untrained plant. He transformed it into a bonsai with definite bunjin character.
Acacia before Tom's styling
Tree as it looks now, 2011
A future virtual concept - bunjin style
In summary, if the trunk line is the major focal point and emphasis of a design then very likely the tree is a bunjin/literati. Once the line is de-emphasized by more foliage etc. the design will begin to lose its bunjin character and become a typical bonsai described as usual by its trunk shape and character and not by its LINE.