of the ceramics of the japanese artist Ryoji Koie could be excused
for wondering what Koie will turn his mind to next. When I first met
Koie in the 1970s he was making pots covered in slip and firing them
with wood that had been dredged from the harbour near Tokoname, Koie’s
home town. These pots had flashes of red and brown and the sheen one
associates with salt-glaze.
Since then Koie has been involved working in many styles. Significant
are his works of social commentary that refer to Hiroshima, to Nagasaki,
to Chernobyl. These works grace many museum collections and have serious
and passionate impact for those who see them and are aware of their
significance. Koie is also known for his work with unfired clay, bringing
raw earth into the gallery for a series of happenings and events,
radical ones of which, I have heard, caused the traditional ceramic
establishment to raise their eyebrows. When I visited him in the 1980s
at his studio in Gifu, he was cutting stone boulders in half, firing
one half and then realigning both sections together before writing
messages or signatures or dates across the cut sections. But the workshop
was full of pots, woodfired, oribe green glazed and true fine examples
of the potter’s art. And it is the pots I believe to be the
inspiration that has continued to fascinate Koie’s followers
and, possibly, the artist himself. It is in the pots that Koie shows
his rebellious character. While these pots reflect all the pleasure
and value we associate with the Japanese sense of beauty, we find
in them a break with tradition. With these works he is placed between
the pottery tradition and the contemporary art of the avant-garde.
The beauty is there without doubt but we are also struck by the casual
ease of the potter and his spirited approach.
Ryoji Koie accepted my invitation to take part in ClaySculpt Gulgong
1995, I was not sure what to expect. Arriving early he bought several
items of old machinery, such as sewing machines, from the local townsfolk.
Koie has made a number of works using fired metal, particularly for
his Testament series which have appeared throughout his career.
A car accident limited his output during the Gulgong event to a number
of teabowls made with one hand – the other was broken and confined
in a sling. However his interaction with the other invited masters
as well as the participants and his knowledge of woodfiring added
considerably to the event, and his ebullient and compassionate personality
led to many stories.
Born in Tokoname, a traditional ceramic town in Japan, in 1938,
Koie has exhibited his ceramics and contributed to workshops and conferences
in many countries. There are major publications and catalogues devoted
to his ceramics and his work has appeared in books and magazines.
His work was included in A Secret History of Clay, From Gaugain to
Gormley, shown at the Tate, Liverpool, UK, and can be seen at the
National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, and the Metropolitan Museum
of Art, New York. In April 2005, his work will be exhibited at Boutwell
Draper Gallery, Sydney.
Koie combines clay and glass in his figurative sculptures, creates
museum installations and uses metal, both found and sought, with a
variety of clays in other works. Known for his spontaneous response
to any situation, he enjoys innovation whether it be in his paintings
or in surface decoration on his pots. In a retrospective of his work
at the Museum of Fine Arts, Gifu, in 1996, works were borrowed from
individuals and institutions from many countries. Titled From the
Earth, To the Earth, works included installations and non-functional
pieces and mention was made of his unique tableware. These, in white
clay with Oribe-style green copper glaze were described as “elegant,
and while at first glance they seem modern and slick, they reveal
delicate touches of traditional craftsmanship, the intriguing innovation
lying precisely in the subtle interplay between the two styles.”
the Oribe Award, sponsored by the Gifu Prefecture for innovative activities
that link industry and culture, Koie was the 1996 recipient because
of his contribution to the development of creativity and imagination
leading toward the 21st century. The catalogue published to honour
the artist at that time emphasised his international workshops and
exhibition program, focusing on the pottery he made in various countries.
The Australian painter Michael Johnson, writing in the catalogue for
the award said he felt “a sustaining joy to look upon Ryoji
Koie’s works of pottery. The silence of a singular artist’s
contribution is a worthwhile retreat... Innocence at this point in
time: the dream world is relevant and important.” Recognising
a remarkable aura created from the cultural past and contemporary
world art in Koie’s work, Johnson wrote: “The modest throwing
of clay and glaze takes us to the inside of his expression, revealed
on the outside; a sense of belonging. The naturalness, the energy
of intuitive touch with the wet earth in his hands, he excavates and
reveals the inner shades of meaning, fusion and flux that fires the
Dr Janet Mansfield is a potter and editor/publisher of Ceramics Art
and Perception and Ceramics Technical. An exhibition of recent ceramics
by Ryoji Koie will be held at the Boutwell Draper Gallery, Redfern,
Sydney, 13 April – 7 May 2005.
Telephone: 02 9310 5662 www.boutwelldraper.com.au.