Ryoji Koie

Ryoji Koie (1938-2020) is a Japanese ceramic artist.

Ryoji Koie might be considered one of Japan’s most forward-thinking artists of his time. Born in 1938 in Tokoname City, Aichi Prefecture, Koie began work at a local tile factory immediately following his graduation from high school and started producing his own pottery when he was 20. From humble beginnings he developed his singular artistic approach, experimenting with materials such as soil, raw clay and found objects such as clocks and electronic circuitry. Rather than labor to preserve tradition, as a young man, he looked to movements in postwar contemporary art such as the abstract expressionist paintings of Jackson Pollock and the found-object ethos of Mono-ha. The gestural application of glazes on his ceramics and the giant X created dynamic surfaces that reflected this innovative approach.

Koie did not limit himself to the conventional framework of “ceramic art.” He was a ceaseless experimenter, never settling into a style or a routine. He moved back and forth between the realms of contemporary art and ceramics, using the fundamental materials of fire and earth in his works. He also created “ceramic happenings”, with themes that were social and often political critiques of the horrors of the 20th century.

Instead of studying one type of pottery then spend a lifetime honing that skill, as is tradition, Koie moved between them freely, with a spontaneous virtuosity that spoke both to his skills as an artisan and his creative exuberance. The diversity of his output – in terms of materials, techniques and styles – is dramatic, spanning raku-firing, soda-firing and wood-firing; surface effects he explored range from glossy green Oribe to the organic browns born of an anagama kiln’s flames.

Koie won multiple awards throughout his career, including the Japan Ceramic Society Award in 1992, the Chunichi Cultural Award in 2005, and the Gold Prize for the Japan Society Award in 2008. His works can be found in permanent collections worldwide, such as the Smithsonian Museum, Victoria & Albert Museum, Centre National Georges Pompidou in Paris, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Seoul Metropolitan Museum of Art.

© Portrait : Michael Harvey