Interview with Ofer Grunwald

By Reena Baras

Ofer Grunwald is an up-and-coming multimedia artist based in Jerusalem. I recently had the opportunity to sit with the artist and discuss his work, his journey as an artist and visit his one-of-a-kind studio in Jerusalem at the Botanical Gardens.

Disconnected Medium - Tefillin
Tefillin, mixed media with ficus tree (from Disconnected Medium, 2016)

One of the main mediums that Grunwald currently works with is bonsai—for those of you not familiar with the term, bonsai is essentially the art of working with trees and shrubs in pots and shaping them to get the most out of their structure. We took a short drive to his working space where Grunwald showed me his collection of of this interesting medium.

Pictures of  his work will reveal bonsai as stunning works of conceptual art, in conjunction with the artist’s other mediums choice (i.e. plaster and machinery), there is nothing like seeing the starting point of Grunwald’s bonsai skill. With each day, month and year, small gradual shifts in the fluidity and shape of the tree will take place—it is a live medium, one that is not easy to work with. 

I sat down with Grunwald  to find out more about his journey as an artist, the art of bonsai and it’s conceptual manifestations in his work! Read the interview here:

Disconnected Medium - side gallery view
Disconnected Medium, gallery view (Jerusalem, 2016)

Hi Ofer! Thanks for meeting with us! Will you describe for the readers your artistic education and professional background?

I’d describe myself as a self-taught multidisciplinary artist. I did seek out and study under one of the great masters of sculptural bonsai in Europe (Enrico Savini, Italy), but it was more of a series of intensive workshops than a proper apprenticeship.

My professional background is extremely diverse, ranging from competitive intelligence to copywriting, to translation.

Bonsai is a unique medium, are there many artists that work with bonsai? How Is Bonsai a medium that many contemporary artists work with? When/where did this start? 

Bonsai is actually a medium that not many people are familiar with. There have been some artists around the world who have referenced or used. Over the past couple of years, bonsai has started becoming very popular and trendy, thanks to internet exposure.

Untitled (pendulum) - detail
Untitled, olive tree and cinder block pendulum (from Disconnected Medium, 2016)

I’m one of the very few people working from a different direction – originating in bonsai, and trying to use it as a contemporary means for expression. I’m literally writing the book on the subject, one article and one exhibition at a time.

For me, from the start, bonsai was bigger than the tree itself. There was something there. Something intangible that I was trying to express. About four years ago, I was visiting the MOMA in New York, and came across the amazing work of Geoffrey Mann. I stood before his moth-flight sculpture and said, “This is it. This is bonsai.” The fact that I was looking at a frozen manifestation of an unseen movement was the essence of what I was finding so fascinating about bonsai in general, and in junipers in particular. It is this fascination that has informed my work ever since.

In-process concept test for Tefillin

Tell us what you’re working on now:

My ongoing project is actually working in the traditional bonsai medium, where I work on trees for private and public collections, work with students on their collections, and of course work on my own trees. Fifteen years since I first opened a ‘Bonsai 101’ book, I only now feel like I am finding my own voice, and my trees have moved from being ‘visually powerful’, to ‘emotive’.

On the contemporary front, I had a very successful exhibition in October 2016 – I got together a group of second year students from Bezalel (mostly Industrial Design, with one Jewelry student), and we set out to see if bonsai could be used as a medium for contemporary artistic expression. The exhibition was a world-first, groundbreaking project, and its shockwaves are still being felt in both the bonsai and wider artistic community.

The tree from Tefillin, in summer 2017 – note the changes from the picture above.

I am also currently working on playing with the trees themselves to deconstruct bonsai even further, but due to the nature of the medium, these trials take a very long time.I have also ventured into figurative sculpture, ever since I literally needed a hand and made one out of clay.

 How has Bonsai influenced and/or led up to these projects?

Bonsai has informed all my work. It is a medium that puts a huge emphasis on the transient and lonely nature of the human experience. The focus on processes that are either too fleeting or two slow to see and share lends a sort of serene melancholy to the medium that really resonates with me.

piece 1
Composed, No. 1, earthenware clay, in-process shot

All the various projects I have underway at the moment, from bonsai to installation to figurative sculpture – they are all founded on this inability to seize or communicate things that are perpetually in motion.

You said bonsai is a medium that emphasizes the transient and lonely nature of human existence – interesting! Will you elaborate?

Bonsai, by definition, is an art form focusing on process, and devoid of any product. As such, it tends to exist in two time-frames – the very momentary frozen image of the here and now (and ultimately you can yield an amazingly beautiful momentary image); and the unseen, relentless movement of the growing tree. This tends to mess with one’s concept of time in strange, surprising, and ultimately pleasant ways.

piece 3
Composed, No. 2, earthenware clay, in-process shot
piece 2 - test
Composed, No. 3, earthenware clay, used bonsai wire, two-way mirror, in-process shot

Will you continue working with Bonsai? 

Absolutely! With traditional bonsai, my work is still evolving. Also, due to the slow nature of the medium, there are still many things I have not done, wish to do, and am trying to do, that will take many years to mature.

And on a personal level, every year I am still finding new depths to the medium, which then trigger another round of creative exploration, and the cycle continues.

piece 2 - front - final
Composed, No. 3, after smoke-firing, front view.
piece 2 - negative
Composed No. 3, negative side view
piece 2 - positive - final
Composed No. 3, positive side view

Can you tell us about future projects and exhibitions? 

I have a LOT of projects currently in the works. The nearest one is a series of installations for the Jerusalem Biennale, which will be opening October 1st. I then have two or three projects that will be going into production between November 2017 and January 2018. In March 2018, I’ll be participating in three exhibitions in Canberra, Australia. And in October 2018, I hope to be back in Jerusalem finally opening the exhibition that’s been on my mind ever since I stood before Geoffrey Mann’s sculpture at the MOMA on that fateful afternoon, four years ago.

Thank you Ofer! |

About the author: Born and raised in Silver Spring, MD, Reena Baras moved to Jerusalem in 2015. Reena studied for her BA in early childhood and special education from Montgomery College in Maryland and works as a resource teacher, swim instructor, and freelance artist. In the fall, Reena plans to complete her BA in Liberal Arts at Tel Aviv University.Reena is a contributing journalist for




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