Interview with Julie Trigg, Artist of Trees and Oils

Bonsai attracts people from all walks of life and various professions meaning practitioners enjoy a cross section of society one might not normally meet. In BSF we have among many professions, doctors, teachers, nursery growers, engineers, lawyers, and artists. This month, we interview just that, a well-respected and successful artist and bonsai grower, Julie Trigg. Hailing from Sarasota, Julie has been painting since the ‘80s creating evocative and beautiful canvases.  She has won many painting awards and has art displayed around the globe in private and public collections. She holds degrees from the Art Students League in NewYork, Parsons School of Design and the New School. Her paintings range in style and color but they all evoke an emotion.  Julie owns a gallery in Sarasota arts district.  One part of her oeuvre entails a series of paintings featuring cows. These bovine works of art are really protest statements that Julie uses to convey her feelings about a particular subject, such as encroaching development. Carrying those feeling and artistic sensibilities to bonsai, she has many wonderful trees in her collection and has won several best of show awards.  Sit back and enjoy learning more about BSF Member, Julie Trigg.

BSF: Please tell us a little bit about yourself.

JT: I’m basically an artist, having worked in various medium, but back to oils on canvas for the past 18 years. I try to divide my time, shuffling between painting, my 200 plus bonsai collection and keeping a very old 1923 house going. Other than a little volunteer work, just about every day is spent trying to keep everything together.  

BSF: How did you get interested in bonsai?

JT: Actually painting is what got me into bonsai. I was exhibiting my work at an outdoor art festival around 1975-76 and the exhibitor next to me was an elderly Asian man exhibiting his bonsai. I traded one of my paintings for one of his trees. Well, turns out it was a Juniper…… and I killed it. But I was hooked at that point, so I bought another one. Yep……a juniper. Loved that Karate Kid movie! Killed that one as well. 

So I began trying to learn the beautiful and sometimes frustrating art of bonsai. I don’t think they had a local club here at that time, so I did a lot of reading and practicing on my yard trees.  Since then, I’ve had group and/or private lessons in Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey and Florida. Some of my favorite instructorswere Chase Rosade, Jim Smith and Mike Cartrett. 

BSF: How would you describe your approach to bonsai?

JT: I don’t usually try for an instant bonsai. I try to think a few years down the road unless I come across agreat pre-bonsai. I remember one of my teachers, Mike Cartrett, advising students to plant their tree in the ground and let it grow a while. So I would do that or place collected trees in large, plastic, cement mixing pots. So this slowed me down and made me think more about the future outcome. I still have trees planted in my yard that are now too large for me to dig by myself! But I’ve discovered that the older the tree the easier it is to maintain. That is, if you have achieved what you consider a good base and ramification of the limbs. Lol, certainly opposite of aging humans! So I usually go for the large picture and make the defining cuts gradually. Of course this comes after much thought and time just studying the tree. 

BSF: As a well-known visual arts artist, can you compare or contrast bonsai to painting?  

JT: Well, painting is a totally different concept. If you don’t like what you are painting today, you can always scrape it off or gesso the canvas again and start a totally new painting!

But since bonsai is a living tree, you have to take into consideration its needs and you can only go so far to impose your ideas of transformation. Sure, you can cut off all the limbs and try to regrow them in more appropriate places (according to the rules) but that takes time and has to be done in stages while respecting and working within the boundaries of the species. Otherwise you can end up with a lot of dud trees that you still have to maintain daily…..or dead ones. But then you can also have a bunch of dud paintings….. but at least you don’t have to water, trim and maintain!

BSF: Do you see bonsai as an art?

JT: Bonsai is definitely a form of art. But the artist is limited in his/her ability to communicate their intent to the viewer. You can only have so many weeping trees! 

BSF: Do you believe artist in other fields, like sculpture or painting view bonsai as an art?

JT: While I want to say yes, I don’t feel the mainstream has picked up on this possibility just yet. If we could interest art magazines to include a few now and then, I could see this happening. 

BSF: Have you ever considered a bonsai and art gathering in your gallery or maybe at an traditional art event in your area?

JT: Sure, I’m always up for different and interesting endeavors. 

BSF: You are the most prolific painter of cows in America, how would you transfer that to bonsai or does your cow inspiration only apply to your paintings?

JT: Hahaha! A lot of my cow paintings are protest pieces done in series. For example, the series “Hot Cows On Main” is actually a protest about the out-of-control growth that has been going on in Sarasota for the past several years! We use to have farms only a few miles east of town but now we have gated communities, hotels, and high-rises on every available bit of land! Doesn’t seem to be any thought given to maintaining some of our beautiful, historic buildings or consideration of future traffic or infrastructure. 

So all that makes for some interesting protest pieces, although most people don’t realize that.  But I do try to combine some cows in my bonsai as well. Driving past farms you can see where cows have stripped all the leaves off the branches they can reach. And of course they are always lying underneath in the shade. I just did a bonsai and have a cow scratching her back on a low limb. 

So funny, I had a Brazilian Raintree accepted in the national show in 2016 and Bill Valvanis wanted me to leave the cow out of the official photo of each tree. But she was there underthe tree for the show and I had lots of great comments! 

BSF: If you were to design a perfect bonsai species, what would it have?

JT: Probably a faster growing type of Juniper with shorter needles.

BSF: What are three key points Florida bonsai enthusiasts can apply to improve their trees?

JT: 1. It’s all about the base! Grow those sacrificial branches down low on the trunk to fatten that base.

2. Learn the traditional rules and then throw them out. Let the tree speak to you. I know it sounds too zen, but try to be true to its roots (lol). Right branch, left branch, back branch etc., etc., etc., makes for cookie cutter trees that become boring. 

3. I know we’re all proud of our hard earned taper, but exposing it too far up detracts from the tree in my opinion. Trees don’t grow that way in nature. Expose most but then add a little hide and reveal. High up in a tree you couldn’t have an “eye poker”as some are worried about. Think more about harmony and balance. 

BSF: Where do you see bonsai going in the future?

JT: Trees will probably have a chip embedded in the trunk that will tell you when to water and when to feed. You will be able to send a photo of your tree thousands of miles away (via internet) and it will be sent back telling you exactly where and when to chop with a photo of what your finished tree should look like. This will eliminate local pros and take all the originally, art, and fun out of Bonsai.

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