Weekly Highlight: KOIE Ryoji

Weekly Highlight: KOIE Ryoji

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In 1994, Takashimaya department store in New York City featured a solo exhibition of the work of Japanese artist Koie Ryoji, the artist's first show in the United States. 
A large showroom held a dozen green Oribe glazed jars, and several large mud paintings hung on the walls. It was an eye-opening show, and one that cemented his status as an important up-and-coming ceramicist.

Koie was born and raised in Tokoname, one of the six ancient pottery centers, where kilns have been in operation for more than a millennium. The sandy clay from this region is known for its use in tiles, pipes, and toilets. Though he came of age in a strong local pottery tradition, Koie's work has taken him far from home. He built a kiln in India in 1971, and has also worked actively in the United States, Europe, and Australia.

His natural skill for ceramics, as well as his free and easy spirit, shines through in his work, and he is especially well-known for his tea bowls and high-shouldered jars among many others.

Not surprisingly, in his travels Koie has tried many different kinds of pottery wheels. This gorgeous and robust jar was thrown on an Indonesian side wheel, which gives it its slightly off-center feel. The long skirts traditionally worn by Indonesian women prevent them from straddling the potter's wheel while working. This issue resulted in the invention of the side wheel, which can be used with both legs on one side. Here, the process has resulted in an organic feel, with the large belly creating compositional tension.

Koie used a sandy clay for this piece, then finished with a white slip and dramatic iron dripping. These drips are seemingly free and abstract, but come together to form a Sumie painting image that calls to mind swaying reeds along a riverside -- truly an excellent example from this Tokonamemaster. His signature, 良 (ryo), can be found horizontally across the belly, proving that his abstract painting is both free and well-controlled.

Koie's warmth and hospitality attracts potters and friends from home and abroad. When asked by Kato Tsubusa why he preferred the wheel, Koie answered: "it is like a jazz instrument to me." This freedom and exuberant sense of experimentation makes Koie's work a delightful presence in any collection. Now, close to 80 years old, Koie is recovering from an illness, but his spirit is in no way dimmed by his misfortune. He communicated with me via his writing pad, saying "I want to come back to NY!" Yes! Genbate! Koie san! 
We pray for your speedy recovery and see you in NY!

KOIE Ryoji (1938-)
H26.8 x Dia23.2cm, H10.5" x Dia9"
With Signed Wood Box