Tetsuya Ishida was born in 1973 in Shizuoka Prefecture, and graduated in 1996 from the Department of Art and Design at Tokyo’s Musashino Art University. He initially pursued a career in commercial graphic design, but was forced to do odd jobs to survive due to the market crash in the 1980s, becoming a freelance artist in the process. The hierarchical and conservative aspects of Japanese society often place great pressure on people’s individuality, which is suppressed and minimized in a crushing and claustrophobic way. Ishida used his keen sensitivity, detailed and realistic brushstrokes, hyper-realistic perception, and first-hand empathy to illustrate the state of existence in modern Japanese society.
The figure of the short-haired and despondent young man appears often among the artist’s 200-odd surviving works, and even though Ishida denied that these are self-portraits, the young man is still commonly interpreted as a projection of the artist’s self. In Untitled, the semi-autobiographical protagonist is turned into a common washbasin or sink housing his “friend”, a creature that also occurs frequently in Ishida’s works and which has been compared to the insect in Kafka’s Metamorphosis. While this objectified self is depicted in the clinical white of the sink’s porcelain, the protagonist’s eye and posture reveal feelings of love, compassion, and pity, demonstrating the artist’s selfless kindness and protectiveness. He said that, “people’s pain, bitterness, sadness, anxiety, loneliness, and more are all things I can feel powerfully. I want to digest these in my own way and present them again.”
Ishida tends to create several works with the same setting but introduce variations in theme, composition, or content. Compared with works in the same series, Untitled features hidden details that reveal the great care involved in the making of this painting. The sink is dotted with everyday items and common medicines found in the Japanese home, reflecting daily life in contemporary Japan. The artist’s work is rooted in hyper-realism, with the exquisitely detailed and naturalistic lighting, proportions, and brushstrokes creating a beautifully illusionistic scene.
The self-bound protagonist in Untitled seems to be a victim of a tragedy, but he also bears with him the artist’s sympathy and sorrow for modern humanity’s state of mind and existence. This humanistic and humanitarian spirit is a common thread that links together Ishida’s work, many of which seem hopeless but is filled with powerful initiative and determination. In primary school, the artist won a human rights comic award with a submission against bullying. The American artist Ben Shahn had an interest in social issues such as justice, labour rights, and immigration, and even visited Japan on a fact-finding mission after an American hydrogen bomb testing led to the death of a Japanese sailor (the Daigo Fukuryu Maru incident), leading to Shahn’s Lucky Dragon series. Having grown up in Ise, Ishida knew of the incident, and when he reflected on his award Ishida professed that Shahn inspired him to create works that are underpinned by a humanitarian spirit. He wrote, “I’m captivated by an artist that is like a saint. They believe that ‘with a line and a stroke, painting can save the world’.” Untitled exposes the oppressive environment that modern people live in, and through each line and each stroke, it also shines light on their spirit, in hopes that doing so can save the world.