Paintologically Speaking…


For our first issue we highlight the work of Japanese Artist Ayako Rokkaku, a unique combination of performance and painting.

Born in Tokyo she also divides her time between the European cities of Amsterdam and Berlin. A self-taught artist, Rokkaku began to paint in 2002 and when she won the 2006 ‘Scout Prize’ at the Geisai Art Market in Japan her career took a leap forward. Following the award she quickly gained notoriety for her performance paintings on large canvas and since her debut performance in Gallery Delaive, Amsterdam in 2007, Rokkaku’s work has been shown at exhibitions in numerous countries including Denmark, Italy, Switzerland, Korea and Taiwan.

A Painting Performance

Combining performance and painting and working in front of a live audience, I think I work in a very particular, personal style; the method is direct, I do not use brushes but work only with my hands dipping them into the paint and apply it directly onto card or canvas, in fact I really just use my fingers. I work direct from the start beginning to paint without any pencil lines, and with no plan or composition in mind, no preliminary sketches are made to work it out in advance. It means there’s an immediacy and a true directness to the work. It’s more honest and avoids it becoming too contrived. Given the illustrative nature of the imagery that can be an easy trap to fall into.

Ayako Rokkaku at work in the Studio of the Dutch Opera, Amsterdam, 2011. Photographs taken by Nico Delaive

The painting technique is quite unique and best seen performed live in front of an audience. In these life performances I work on large murals, or ‘live paintings’, which are created by applying acrylic paint directly to the canvas with my fingers. In these works I share with the public my own world of bright colours and recurring symbols such as flowers, animals, boats and houses.

A recurrent theme in the work is that of little girls with large eyes and long arms that are often portrayed in close-up. My palette and the benign nature of the images makes the work appears cheerful but appearances can be deceptive, beneath the sweet fantasy lies an abundance of emotions, anger, fear, insecurities and convictions that are channelled and project onto the canvas. And although fantasy and fable play a major role, the images remain both credible and familiar, but the little girls’ charming gazes can sometimes turn around to become stares of hostility. Working with my hands instead of brushes enhances the innocence, we all did that as a child, use our hands, making us completely in touch with the painting, nothing getting in the way.

Ayako Rokkaku, Untitled, 2011, 300 x 400 cm, acrylic on canvas, signed.

At the performances the audience see the stories and the characters unfold and they are intrigued to see what will come next, to see if my imagination matches their own. It’s also a unique experience to see a painting happen; it’s usually a private affair with the artist only prepared to unveil the final work after the creative process had ended. When I work in front of an audience people see the decisions, the hesitations and the changes as they develop into a finished painting. The paintings do change constantly and everyone can watch that process. It is wonderful to be able to share that moment of creation with others.


 To see where Ayako Rokkaku will give her next live painting performance go to

 Ayako Rokkaku is officially represented Gallery Delaive.