Artists Inspired by Bonsai: Episode 2, Michael McKee

For this episode of Artists Inspired by Bonsai, it is a pleasure to showcase the work of Mr. Michael Mckee.  Michael and I first met back in November of 2014.  I was on a 2 day vacation (that cost me a few days off before and after) from Aichien, spending a little time in Kyoto.  Michael was on a trip that he had been planning for over a decade, also in Kyoto.  By chance we happened to be in the same place at the same time and our paths crossed.  We started chatting a little bit and quickly discovered our shared interest in bonsai.  At that point, this article series was already in the works and I explained to him that I was looking for artists to write about.  Coincidently, the first phase of Michael’s website had recently been completed and he wanted to get it out to the public.  Perfect timing!  Interestingly, Michael and I crossed paths again by chance, the very next day on the complete opposite side of town.  What a great feeling, we all shared a few thoughts and smiles in observance of how well things work out some times.

install2

In this article I’m going to share some words and photos from Michael’s website.  His statement on the sculpture series titled “Bonsai Staircases” is a great way to get started and I’ll let the rest unfold from there.  Each piece has several photos from different viewing angles that can be seen on his site, in addition to what I will show here.  So be sure to check that out to get the full effect!

“Who amongst us hasn’t longed to climb the branches of a great tree? To look out from where the squirrels chatter and the birds fly. To feel a cool breeze in the summer heat and gaze upon far vistas. I know I have, especially when I was young and could climb. And who doesn’t want to feel young again. Even now to see a tree is to want to climb it. A primitive call not just to stand before it, but to climb to the heights and see what the tree sees, to be exhilarated, to feel alive. So I have built trees, all sorts of trees, with staircases and elevators and escalators to take us there no matter our age or natural ability. 

It was John Naka who gave me my early education about the art of bonsai tree forms. Later, I learned to appreciate the art of staircases while constructing my family homes. Then one magical day my mind saw the similarities of form and combined the two. A staircase usually exhibits a run, and a landing, a run, and a landing about a central support. A bonsai tree has a right, a left, a front, and back branch all supported by a strong central trunk. In addition to staircases, many bonsai tree styles lend their form to other modes of people conveyor systems. A formal upright tree easily translates to a spiral staircase. A fire-gutted redwood is perfect for an elevator shaft. A wind-swept tree provides a horizontal bridge. A downward cascade offers an escalator. What follows are the unions of bonsai tree forms and people conveyor systems in an attempt to satisfy both spiritual and physical transportation needs in a single art construct.

From sketch to architectural drawing, to wood scale model, to mold, to wax, to cast bronze, to scaled up fabricated sheet metal bronze. Each a discipline unto itself. And someday I would like people to be able to climb my staircases, ride on the escalators, or take an elevator to the top of a tall building. This is the final journey.

In appreciation, thank you for teaching mechanical drawing in high school. Thank you to the many home builders I have labored with while learning construction and woodworking. Thank you Cabrillo College for offering foundry and mold making instruction and woodworking facilities. Thank you Monterey Sculpture Center and all the people who work there for mold, wax, bronze casting, finishing and patina work. Finally, thank you Cathy Fong for your many photographs and website creation. The journey and the people along the way are much of the story, and not to be forgotten.”

-Michael Mckee

The following photos and captions are directly from Michael’s website, www.mckeebronze.com

First Tree is based on the informal upright (moyo-gi) bonsai style. 
Silicon bronze cast. Ferric nitrate patina. 
24"H x 18"W x 15"D.  2003.

First Tree is based on the informal upright (moyo-gi) bonsai style. 
Silicon bronze cast. Ferric nitrate patina. 
24″H x 18″W x 15″D.  2003.

 

Lives Again is a tree that was struck by lightning and grew anew from one remaining branch. 
Based on the informal upright style. 
Silicon bronze cast. Ferric nitrate patina. 
41"H x 20"W x 17"D.  2004.

Lives Again is a tree that was struck by lightning and grew anew from one remaining branch. 
Based on the informal upright style. 
Silicon bronze cast. Ferric nitrate patina. 
41″H x 20″W x 17″D.  2004.

 

Sequoia is a redwood tree with a trunk partially hollowed by fire. 
Representative of the split or hollowed trunk (sabaken) bonsai style. 
Silicon bronze cast. Western art brown patina. 
43"H x 21"W x 17"D.  2004.

Sequoia is a redwood tree with a trunk partially hollowed by fire. 
Representative of the split or hollowed trunk (sabaken) bonsai style. 
Silicon bronze cast. Western art brown patina. 
43″H x 21″W x 17″D.  2004.

 

Anvil exemplifies the straight trunk (chokkan) bonsai style. 
Silicon bronze cast. Ferric nitrate patina. 
22"H x 19"W x 14"D.  2004.

Anvil exemplifies the straight trunk (chokkan) bonsai style. 
Silicon bronze cast. Ferric nitrate patina. 
22″H x 19″W x 14″D.  2004.

 

Comes Back is based on the freestyle (bunjin) bonsai style. 
Silicon bronze casting. Gold dust patina. 
25"H x 26"W x 20"D.  2004.

Comes Back is based on the freestyle (bunjin) bonsai style. 
Silicon bronze casting. Gold dust patina. 
25″H x 26″W x 20″D.  2004.

Points is based on the informal upright (moyo-gi) bonsai style. 
Silicon bronze cast. Ferric nitrate patina. 
36"H x 13"W x 17"D.  2003.

Points is based on the informal upright (moyo-gi) bonsai style. 
Silicon bronze cast. Ferric nitrate patina. 
36″H x 13″W x 17″D.  2003.

 

Airport is based on the formal cascade (kengai) bonsai style. 
Painted wood. 
40"H x 45"W x 17"D.  2005.

Airport is based on the formal cascade (kengai) bonsai style. 
Painted wood. 
40″H x 45″W x 17″D.  2005.

Tea House is based on the hollowed trunk (sabaken) bonsai style. 
Painted wood. 
25"H x 21"W x 16"D.  2005.

Tea House is based on the hollowed trunk (sabaken) bonsai style. 
Painted wood. 
25″H x 21″W x 16″D.  2005.

 

Juggernaut is based on the windswept (fukinagashi) bonsai style. 
Painted wood. 
24"H x 34"W x 16"D.  2005.

Juggernaut is based on the windswept (fukinagashi) bonsai style. 
Painted wood. 
24″H x 34″W x 16″D.  2005.

 

Snow Goose is based on the slanted trunk(shakan) bonsai style. 
Painted wood. 
40"H x 24"W x 26"D.  2005.

Snow Goose is based on the slanted trunk(shakan) bonsai style. 
Painted wood. 
40″H x 24″W x 26″D.  2005.

Dragon is based on the abstract and freestyle (bunjin) bonsai style. 
Painted wood. 
31"H x 22"W x 15"D.  2005.

Dragon is based on the abstract and freestyle (bunjin) bonsai style. 
Painted wood. 
31″H x 22″W x 15″D.  2005.

There are so many more photos available at mckeebronze.com so please check it out.  I’ll close this article out by saying thank you to Michael for making such beautiful art inspired by bonsai and to Cathy Fong for building such a clean and easy to navigate website as a way to show these amazing sculptures to the world.

I’m always interested in finding more artists inspired by bonsai for this series, so if you know of anyone out there creating art with bonsai in mind please send them my way.

Thanks for reading!

Until next time…

Danny