Views Contemporary Culture Going Global
Rokkaku Ayako: An Artist with the World at Her Fingertips
“Colours in My Hand” Exhibition at the Kunsthal, Rotterdam
[2011.10.03] Read in: 日本語 | 简体字 | 繁體字 | FRANÇAIS | ESPAÑOL | Русский |

A rising star of the Japanese art world, Rokkaku Ayako creates a vivid world of color and vitality by painting directly with her fingers without any preliminary sketches or guidelines. Her beguiling works have captured the hearts of people of all ages and backgrounds around the world.

Ten years ago in Tokyo parks a young Japanese woman started to apply acrylic paints directly onto cardboard with her hands, without using a brush.

Today that woman, Rokkaku Ayako, is 29 years old.

She first came to widespread attention when she submitted her work to the Geisai contemporary art festival organized by Murakami Takashi—an event that has recently become something of a rite of passage for young Japanese artists. In the years since then, she has risen to international prominence and held solo exhibitions of her work in France, Italy, and Denmark.

This summer her biggest solo exhibition to date, “Colours in My Hand,” was held at the Kunsthal in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Over the two months of the exhibition, Rokkaku’s art and energetic live painting performances charmed large numbers of visitors.


Detailed overview of the exhibition (link) →
360°panorama of Rokkaku Ayako’s “Colours in My Hand” exhibition at the Kunsthal, Rotterdam.

Art with an International Appeal

“I always loved doodling as a kid,” Rokkaku says, “but I didn’t start to draw seriously until I was 20 or so. I was looking for a way to express myself, I guess, and kind of stumbled upon it one day. I was wondering what I was going to do with my life, and when I started painting everything clicked.”

Rokkaku says she can’t even remember today what the subject of that first painting was. “I just remember this squishy, squelchy mess of paint all over my hands.” Rokkaku says the figures of grownups and children so typical of her work began to emerge spontaneously when she started painting directly onto cardboard with her fingers. How did she come up with her unique method of painting?

“I don’t feel I’m really painting unless my hands are in direct contact with the paint. It’s more fun that way—using your hands, painting with your whole body. And the finished paintings are more powerful too. When I started out, I used cardboard because it was convenient. I could get hold of it anywhere, and it was light and easy to prop up against things. But after a while, I realized that actually it’s the perfect medium for my kind of painting. I love everything about it—the warm feel, the rough cross-section you get when you tear it, the way the paint sticks to the surface. That’s why I’m still using cardboard today.”

Rokkaku Ayako is a spontaneous artist who likes to create in the moment. The results are impressive. There is a wonderful sense of approachability about her paintings on cardboard that gives her work an almost universal appeal, speaking powerfully even to people who would never normally think of visiting an art gallery. People seem to enjoy holding her paintings in their hands and examining them up close.

Rokkaku says people who have bought examples of her work to hang in their homes tell her that touching the paintings seems to bring them energy and strength. Her pictures are attracting growing numbers of admirers from diverse backgrounds—young and old, men and women—all over the world.

“When I’m painting, I try to get in touch with the way I felt as a child—to get back to my starting point, if you like. Everyone goes through a stage of being totally into drawing and painting when they are small. Children can get completely absorbed in their pictures. I think maybe my pictures help to remind people of how they felt back then.”

  • [2011.10.03]
Related articles
Other articles in this report
  • Rakugo Without Borders: Exporting Japanese ComedyRakugo, the traditional art of comic storytelling, is generally seen as almost impenetrable to those without a strong command of Japanese. But the Rakugo Without Borders project is changing this view with its subtitled shows that are making audiences laugh around the world.
  • A Retro Manga Master’s Italian RenaissanceItalian fans have discovered the allure of the late manga artist Kamimura Kazuo, whose erotic yet poetic depiction of women elicited comparisons with ukiyo-e and whose ruthless heroines have inspired the likes of Quentin Tarantino. We talked to the translator and scholar Paolo La Marca about his love affair with Kamimura’s work.
  • Meet Obada Kassoumah, the Syrian Who Translated “Tsubasa”In January 2017, the Arabic translation of the hit manga series Captain Tsubasa went on sale in the United Arab Emirates. A portion of the first print run was donated to Syrian refugee children. It was translated by Obada Kassoumah, a 27-year-old Syrian who learned the language by studying abroad in Japan. We spoke to him about the hurdles of translating this Japanese soccer classic into his own language.
  • Boys’ Love and the Bard: Brighton-Based Manga Artist Kutsuwada ChieJapanese-born manga artist Kutsuwada Chie lives in Brighton and runs manga workshops for children and students around Britain. Her work spans genres from samurai legend to horror, but her passion is yaoi, which depicts romantic or sexual relationships between male characters. She is now at work on a yaoi manga adaptation of Shakespeare’s sonnets to the “Fair Youth.”
  • “Strip!”: The Manga Art of Anno MoyocoA recent exhibit at the Parco Museum in Ikebukuro looked at 20 years of creations by manga artist Anno Moyoco. Here's a look at what was on display and an overview of her career.

Video highlights

New series

バナーエリア2
  • From our columnists
  • In the news