Macabre. Gruesome. Cadaverous – These words pretty much sum up the artworks of Tetsuya Ishida.
However, so do – Visionary. Surreal. Authentic.
This late artist was viewed by most native Japanese with disdain, more than likely because he portrayed their lives as they truly were. And we are referring to the era that Ishida grew up in, being the 70’s and 80’s, as this is what he based his art on.
Tetsuya Ishida was born in Yaizu, Shizuoka, Japan in 1973 and his art exposes Japanese living to the core, at least that is what critics are saying. Sadly, Ishida died in 2005, following a railroad crossing accident in Tokyo and many of his works have been left unexplained.
In particular, the fact that a recurring motif in the form of a plastic shopping bag often appears in many of his works. Ishida, himself, refused to explain the appearance or meaning of the plastic bag and this remains an intriguing and much-deliberated phenomenon with today’s art critics. This is still a mystery that will be the talk of the town for a while still.
Ishida’s artworks portray three major themes:
- One of the main themes is how his art depicts Japan’s role in today’s modern world as well how they are identified by the rest of the world
- The way he expressed Japan’s social and academic educational structures was clearly a topic that was close to his heart
- Many of his works exposed the Japanese people’s trials in trying to acclimate to the changes involving social and technological contemporary life
While most Japanese wouldn’t express how they felt about their living situation, however difficult and constricting, Ishida would, through his art. He was bold and flamboyant, often baffling people but mostly astonishing the masses with his fearlessness. His fearlessness to show, through his art, the true everyday lifestyle of the Japanese, is still, to this day, revered with awe and wonder.
His ability to take everyday household objects and combine them with Japanese schoolboys mixed in with factory settings is beyond a simple glance. One has to take a long, detailed look at his works for many minutes to appreciate the true essence of what he was trying to express.
It was clear that Ishida was reproducing his younger life through his art – the isolation, the claustrophobia, and anxiety – is all deeply etched into his style.
Many say he filtered his own face into most of his paintings, although he flatly denied it many a time, stating that they were not self-portraits. As a boy, Ishida was forced to channel his focus into academics instead of art, his passion, and this frustration is plainly shown in one of his works where you see a young boy seemingly growing beyond the walls of a school. The painting is aptly called ‘Prisoner’.
Many have titled his work surrealist portrayals of his observations as a child of his growing up in Japan. Some call his work just plain madness. Disembodied figures tangled up with machinery and arbitrary objects make for an interesting conversation. One cannot deny the similarities between the tight squeeze of Japanese life to his impressions of men crammed into subways like cargo. People, all over the world, can appreciate the humor and realism in this, the fact that many Japanese natives are forced to conform to this way of life, as was he.
His unfailing ability to take the salaried man’s everyday monotony and twist it with skepticism, mixed with a little irony, has made his art very sought after and very criticized too.
Ishida’s hypnagogic approach to the ordinary way of life in Japan will forever be remembered and iconically lived through his bizarre bodies of work. While they trigger heavy reactions in most, they are not easily interpreted. When we think of Japanese art, we imagine quiet, flowing gardens painted with soft, neat patterns or an ancient pot, ingrained with history the way only the Japanese can.
Tetsuya Ishida’s expressions are considered unsettling but will forever have their place in Japanese art.
Title Courtesy – Tetsuya Ishida Exhibition in 2014