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New Emissary


The humble beginnings and rise to fame of a young Japanese ceramic genius.

Brilliant contemporary Japanese ceramist Ryota Aoki’s amazing pieces captivated me as soon as I saw them last year at one of my favorite art spaces in Japan—the Asian Collection Contemporary Art Gallery in Tokyo.

I think what gripped me was their pureness and simplicity, despite the complexity in the underlying process and the artist’s mind. And 31-year-old Aoki takes his work very seriously. He explained in an interview last year that every piece he makes is actually something he wants himself, and that to get the desired effect in each work, he currently tests an astonishing 25,000 different glazes a year. In explaining why he takes on such seemingly tedious work, Aoki compared baking clay to baking a cake, explaining that the ‘difference of a mere gram will bring out something else altogether.’

Ryota_Aoki_CupsHis diligence has clearly paid off, as he describes the resulting pieces as ‘nice and smooth like a baby’s skin,’ that ‘does not stain, even when used for a long time, and it will endure heavy use.’

It’s also paid off in terms of his career—in just the past few years, Aoki has won numerous prizes, held shows in Paris and New York and has been featured on a legendary cultural show on Japanese TV. After the latter, Asian Collection temporarily sold out of his works as people searched all over the internet to find Aoki’s creations. I recently managed to catch up with the gallery’s owners, Robert Tobin and Hitoshi Ohashi, who told me a little bit about their special relationship with the artist:

Robert, on first discovering Ryota Aoki…
‘When I first saw his work, it was about five years ago at the Tokyo Art Fair. His work was [then] black sushi plates…I felt something special in terms of technique—not glaze but some certain kind of elegance that I had never seen before.’

Tracking him down
‘I remembered the name—there’s a soccer player of the same name—and as I traced him in the web I saw that he had won many awards. But it took me two years to find him.’

Humble beginnings and what’s happened since
‘When we first met Ryota Aoki, he lived in a house with no toilet—he had to go to the 7-11. His house has a toilet now and…four assistants. We get inquiries from all over the world for his work and ship all over the world. Some of the requests come from other ceramicists.’


It’s always nice to know that true talent, dedication and drive can get recognized—even for those with humble beginnings willing to sacrifice it all for their craft. And I’d guess that Aoki’s future ahead is as certain as the ambitions he holds for his pieces: ‘…although it may look rather fragile, it is extremely strong. I only make things that will last one hundred years. I make with a passion that even if I die, I want my work at least to stay in this world.’

More on Ryota Aoki and other contemporary Asian artists can be found at the Asian Collection’s website: