Los Angeles

Mr. Bonzai and Keiko Kasai: Thirty Years of Inspiration

Mr. Bonzai, quot;Fireplace/Grapelliquot; 1989, Pencil and Watercolor on Paper

Thirty years ago, writer/photographer Mr. Bonzai (David Goggin) and sculptor Keiko Kasai met by chance at an art opening in Los Angeles. "I bumped into her," says Mr. Bonzai. "Literally." He didn't see Kasai when he was backing up to view a painting. "I turned around and she looked at me, like 'Who is this jerk?'"

Later that night, they connected at an after party. The two agreed that Kasai would help Mr. Bonzai with Japanese if he helped her with English. Mr. Bonzai read "The Old Man and the Sea" to Kasai and explained the book to her. "I thought it would be the simplest book to explain," he says. "It isn't. One word can have a lot of meetings."

Kasai, who is from Japan, had only been in town for a month. She was sculpting and teaching at an art college in Tokyo, but realized that she would have to move elsewhere to further her career. Los Angeles was bustling, thanks in part to the 1984 Olympics, and she wanted to try out the city. At the time of their meeting, she was making sculptures with paper. Kasai was still waiting for her supplies to arrive from Japan. "Mr. Bonzai is the first of my American friends and first art collector," she says.

Thirty years later, the couple is preparing for their first joint show. Salomon Huerta Studio Gallery will present the one day event on June 15. Kasai will exhibit "Shadow Tremors," a new series of works made with synthetic fabric and sumi ink. Mr. Bonzai will show "100 Views of Keiko-san," a collection of art depicting Kasai over thirty years.

Inside their Beachwood Canyon home, the two have been preparing for the exhibition. Kasai reveals some of her newer pieces. She refers to them as "smoke sculptures." Kasai works mesh into billowy shapes that sometimes stand on their own and sometimes pop out of ink pieces.

Keiko Kasai, "Shadow Tremor" 2014, 40" x 30" Black Fabric, Sumi Ink on Paper

 Mr. Bonzai and Keiko Kasai in Japan, 2014.

Mr. Bonzai is going through thirty years of drawings of Kasai. He has never shown these works in public. It is also the first time that Mr. Bonzai has organized the images. There are a lot to peruse. "I'm glad I've kept it up because I learned a lot about myself and I learned a lot about Keiko from seeing them together," says Mr. Bonzai. He plans on including two wire sculptures and a painting in the collection.

Kasai studied painting in art school. By the end of her studies, she gravitated towards sculpting wood and stone. For years, granite has been her material of choice. She carves and polishes them into slick, curvaceous "liquid shapes." Kasai has a lot of love for the medium, but there are drawbacks to working with the stone. "The result is so beautiful, but carving, making granite sculpture, it's just surface," says Kasai. She works with the top layers granite, but never has the chance to manipulate the whole stone.

Her new pieces come out of a desire to use more than the surface of the materials. She was inspired in part by her husband. After seeing Mr. Bonzai's latest endeavor -- wire sculptures of faces -- she was struck by the power in the lines. "Just one single line contains that volume just like the Edo Period in Japan," says Kasai.

Keiko Kasai, "Moon Pond," 1987, 55" x 56" x 18"  Black Granite

Left: Mr. Bonzai, "Keiko Napoli 46b" 2011, 10" x 8"  pencil on paper. Right: "Wire Portrait 46b"  2011, 18" x  4" x 4"  Black Wire, Douglas Fir

Mr. Bonzai works as a writer and photographer. He has interviewed and photographed a slew of noteworthy musicians, from Graham Nash to the Crystal Method. He has also authored several books, including "Faces of Music and Hal Blaine" and "the Wrecking Crew: The Story of the World's Most Recorded Musician." In his downtime, Mr. Bonzai draws. Where he shares his writing and photography publicly, drawing and other visual pursuits have been a private passion for decades.

"My father was an artist," says Mr. Bonzai. "He was a very successful cartoonist and a writer, I found out later, but he died when I was 9, so I really had no guidance."

The lessons came when Mr. Bonzai was an English major at University of California at Irvine during the 1960s. He took a sculpture class on the side, which lead to a drawing class taught by an up-and-comer named David Hockney. "David was very articulate. he was very thoughtful," he says. "The assignments were very challenging, thought-provoking. I got to watch him draw and learn that way. I think the most important thing that I learned from him was how to see."

Mr. Bonzai "Symphony #4," 1990, 12" x 9" Pencil, Watercolor on Paper

Drawing is a purely creative outlet. He doesn't try to sell his work. "I'm not trying to please anyone exactly. I want to please myself first," he says. That's different from his job as a writer and photographer, where he works with clients who may have certain demands.

Mr. Bonzai's writing and photography take precedence on most days. He'll do interviews from home or head out to Ocean Way Recording to take photos. "Much of my drawing happens whenever I feel like it," he says. "It might be at a restaurant. It might be when we're on vacation, where there are no distractions. A lot of my drawings and that kind of stuff is done on the weekend where there are no phone calls or distractions like that."

Keiko Kasai, "Churn,"  2010, 23" 7" x 7" Black Granite

Kasai works out of a tiny studio attached to their garage. The space was designed by Peter Grueneisen and is based on recording studio drum booths. There are double windows and soundproof walls. This is because Kasai's work with granite can create a lot of noise, which can pose a problem when you live in a quiet, residential neighborhood. Granite can also produce a lot of dust. There's formica in the walls to prevent that dust from sticking. She'll spend long periods of time at work on a single project. The granite sculptures take between three to six months to complete. It's a potentially dangerous process too. Kasai wears goggles and a breathing mask when she works. Ear protection is a must. Mr. Bonzai describes her work clothes as a "rubber, Hazmat sort of outfit."

"It would take her 45 minutes to get ready before she goes to work," says Mr. Bonzai. "She's very fastidious about it. Afterwards, it's like an hour of mopping up and cleaning and checking the tools."

Keiko Kasai, "Shadow Tremor 6," 2014, 40" x 30" Black Fabric, Sumi Ink on Paper

Their yard is lined with Kasai's creations. Smooth granite sculptures of varying sizes and shapes run down the grassy hillside. Downstairs, in a basement that has been converted into a spa, Mr. Bonzai showcases his wire sculptures. "Our life, it's easy to categorize," says Mr. Bonzai. "I feel that the whole environment that we're in is artistically oriented."

They continue to inspire each other. Mr. Bonzai admires Kasai's patience. Kasai says that Mr. Bonzai is a "Renaissance Man."

"He has such a passion and energy and he likes challenge in many ways," she says, "not only art or music, in many ways."


Mr. Bonzai  "@ Weeks Haircut," 12" x 9"  Pencil, Watercolor on Paper

Mr. Bonzai  "Onsen," 1990,  9" x 7"  Ink on Paper

Mr. Bonzai, "Wire Portrait 4," 2011, 20" x 12"  Black Wire

All images courtesy of Mr. Bonzai and Keiko Kasai.

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Top Image: Mr. Bonzai, "Fireplace/Grapelli" 1989, Pencil and Watercolor on Paper

About the Author

Liz Ohanesian writes about art, pop culture, music and, sometimes, a combination of the three.
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