Free Feeling

»The inspiration comes from the touch, making it essential for me to feel the colours with my hands, not through a brush.«

»The inspiration comes from the touch, making it essential for me to feel the colours with my hands, not through a brush.«

We followed Ayako Rokkaku during her preparations for the show CUTE. WEIRD. FREE., which is currently on view in the Nave of St. Agnes. In the video, you can catch a glimpse of her intuitive painting process but also the complex planning and realization of the impressive 6-by-8-metre cloud-shaped headpiece. What follows is an excerpt from a conversation with Ayako, in which she talks about the show and her creative process.König Galerie: You just opened your third exhibition at KÖNIG GALERIE. Can you tell us a bit about the show?

Ayako Rokkaku: Planning the show at the Nave of St. Agnes I wanted to focus on what is important to me as an artist. Consequently, this exhibition focuses only on paintings. This encompasses various sizes, ranging from smaller canvases to notably larger ones, including a huge center piece painting. Each work has been prepared specifically for this exhibition.

KG: The title of the show is CUTE. WEIRD. FREE. Where does it come from?

AR: The title CUTE. WEIRD. FREE. reflects three essential aspects of my artistic practice. 'Cute' refers to the Japanese term 'kawaii,' which has a broader and more nuanced meaning than the English word ‘cute’. I come from Japan and its culture deeply influences my work. When you visit Japan, on many shop signs you will notice various cute creatures incorporated into the design. It makes me feel there is some kind of presence everywhere and that is also what I am aiming at in my paintings.

KG: The figures from your paintings give us this sense of presence, but their facial expressions are not so obvious. Some of them smile, but some have a more mysterious or even slightly irritated look on their faces.

AR: Yes, the figures in my works are not only cute but also weird. At times, they even resemble ghosts, which can evoke a hint of fear or darkness. I am interested in blending diverse emotions into a single image. In some instances, the faces exude both happiness and fear simultaneously. This interplay fascinates me – it is about experiencing different feelings at the same time. Rather than portraying distinct states separately, I want to show their interconnectedness. Thus, my paintings are cute, weird, and free all at once.

KG: This leads us to the third term in the title – 'free'. Could you elaborate further on this aspect?

AR: I find a sense of freedom when I look at art, and it is something I am aiming at with my paintings. This feeling of freedom also intertwines with my working process. Usually, when I paint, I don’t make any plans. I begin by applying various colours on my fingers and letting my intuition guide the painting process. Each artwork unfolds through multiple layers, starting with an abstract background and gradually evolving into intricate shapes. The inspiration comes from the touch, making it essential for me to feel the colours with my hands, not through a brush. This direct connection with paint allows me to put more emotions onto the canvas and tap into my purest emotions. I just feel it and follow the flow, which is often challenging to put into words.

KG: Your approach is undeniably intuitive and organic, with the shapes in your paintings often resembling various elements of nature. Is it an important reference for you?

AR: I draw a lot of inspiration from nature. I like looking at the clouds from the airplane, or observing waves moving at the sea, but also, simple things, like strolling through a park, looking at the trees and feeling this comfortable wind. When I work, I usually do not listen to music. I like to hear the sounds from outside, kids playing, birds singing. Nature brings me a lot of energy and is a big source of inspiration, but also the Japanese culture and all the kawaii things you can see around.

KG: One notable highlight of this exhibition is your impressive 6-meter by 8-meter painting. Could you share your thoughts on working with such a monumental canvas?

AR: For this particular piece, I made sketches to coordinate its various components, which were later unified into one cohesive artwork. The process presented logistical challenges, requiring the use of scaffolding to access higher sections. I find a lot of pleasure in working on larger canvases as they allow my movements to expand and become more unrestricted and free. It also enables me to feel the colour physically even more.KG: In this painting, the figure’s eyes attract our attention, but also in your other paintings eyes are the element that stands often out. What does it mean to you?

AR: I perceive the eyes as the gateway to my paintings. They serve as the initial focal point, drawing the viewer's attention. As you delve deeper, the face and the array of colours around it gradually unfold. Maybe it is because I am Japanese, I want to infuse the paintings with a sense of presence, a kind of "soul". Incorporating eyes into any shape transforms the perception and imbues the artwork with a more figurative dimension.

© All images KÖNIG GALERIE


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Quilted Blanket CUTE. WEIRD. FREE.




Ayako Rokkaku (b. 1982 in Chiba, Japan) lives and works between Berlin, Porto, and Tokyo. Her artistic process involves an instinctive and performative approach, as she uses her bare hands to apply acrylic paint, translating the motion of her body onto the canvas. True to her distinctive technique, she moulds figures with the tips of her fingers, whether on canvas, through glass, or in bronze.

Rokkaku’s visual language seamlessly shifts between elusive abstract formations and figurative elements, drawing inspiration from the kawaii culture (Japanese for cute) and capturing the boundless imagination of a child. Rokkaku is known for he...
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