At the age of 24, Mai Inoue creates paintings that look like they could have been painted by her great grandparents. Her subject matter are bonsai: the Japanese art form of pruning and cultivating small trees (commonly a hobby of seniors) that itself dates back thousands of years. And her paintings appear to be made on aged parchment paper. But these are definitely not your grandparents bonsai.
Inoue calls them “Mecha-Bonsai,” mecha being short for mechanical. And it doesn’t take long to realize that her paintings of potted trees actually have mechanical pipes, barrels, cables and axels tangled and intertwined within the trunk and branches.
Born in Osaka, Inoue attended the Kyoto City University of Arts where she majored in Nihonga, or Japanese painting. While in school she entered an art competition sponsored by The Ueno Roya Museum in Tokyo. She won first prize and, last month, had the opportunity to display 9 of her paintings at the museum.
Inoue says she first took an interest in bonsai during her first year of college when she came across a book about bonsai in the library. And she found a way to blend her fascination with metallic materials and bonsai into her work. “I’m more attracted to cityscapes with deserted buildings than I am to landscapes,” said Inoue in an interview. “I especially love looking at the dense piping of factories or motors.” (quotes translated from Japanese by author)
It makes for a highly thoughtful and interesting subject matter because bonsai, while objects of nature, require intense cultivation and care and are hardly “natural.” Their seemingly organic shapes and forms are actually the result of pruning roots, wiring branches and using mechanical devices to clamp trunks.
Inoue has yet to establish herself as an artist (she doesn’t have a website or social media presence either) and is currently focusing on her MFA but we look forward to seeing more from her in the future.