acrylic on board
59.4 x 84.1 cm. (23 3/8 x 33 1/8 in.)
Painted in 1996
Private Collection, Asia
Kyuryudo Art Publishing Co., Ltd, Tetsuya Ishida –Posthumous Works, Tokyo, Japan, 2006 (illustrated in black and white, p. 104).
Nerima Art Museum, Tetsuya Ishida – Our Self Portraits, Tokyo, Japan, 2008 (illustrated, plate 9, p. 49).
Kyuryudo Art Publishing Co., Ltd, Tetsuya Ishida – Complete, Tokyo, Japan, 2010 (illustrated, p. 57).
Kyuryudo Art Publishing Co., Ltd, Tetsuya Ishida's Note, Tokyo, Japan, 2013 (illustrated, p. 74).
Ashikaga Museum of Art, The Hiratsuka Museum of Art, Tonami Art Museum, Shizuoka City Museum of Art, Japan, Tetsuya Ishida, September 2013 – March 2015 (touring exhibition).
Venice, Italy, The 56th Venice Biennale: All the World's Future, 9 May - 22 November 2015.
Sale room notice
Please note that the correct medium of Lot 8 is acrylic on board, the image of Lot 8 is not shown in full in the catalogue.
拍品編號8之正確媒材為 壓克力 板,拍賣目錄所載之圖片並未顯示拍品編號8之全貌。

Brought to you by

Annie Lee
Annie Lee

Lot Essay

What can art accomplish?

Art is subjective. Pure art is generally considered to be solely a visual manifestation to fulfil the artist's inner needs. Since it is a subjective practice, it can therefore be related to no one else. However, great art can evoke empathy within others as well as convey personal feelings. Meanwhile, design and illustration serve the purpose of satisfying the specific needs through rigorous revisions of the commissioner. Essentially, artists are loyal to themselves, while designers and illustrators must be loyal to their clients. David Hockney once said, "Art has to move you and design does not, unless it's a good design for a bus."

In order for art to move others, the artist must first be moved. Only then can the work resonate with its audience. Japanese artist, Tetsuya Ishida, possessed the uncanny ability to move others with his art. Born in 1973 in the Shizuoka Prefecture, Ishida graduated from the College of Art and Design at the Musahino Art University in 1996. He tragically died in a train accident in 2005. During his brief career as a professional artist, he revealed the injustice, repression, and helplessness experienced in the Japanese society through his emotionally attuned compositions and surrealistic imagery.

Japan's society and environment were the two main motivators providing inspiration for Ishida's artistic output— they form the gloomy and solemn atmosphere that is a constant within his body of work. Japanese society is highly stratified; along with a highly competitive education system, adults and society as a whole impose unrealistic expectations on youths—as a result, the younger generation experiences a tremendous amount of pressure. Awakening (Fig. 1) and Prisoner (Fig. 2) demonstrate Ishida's sympathy for the students and his critical view of the system. After the Japanese economic miracle burst in the 1990s, capital value fell, and the traditional system of lifelong employment was shattered, making stable jobs scarce. With long working hours, negative emotions permeated all sectors of society. Tetsuya Ishida began working as a commercial designer after he graduated from university; however, he soon gave up due to the economic downturn. Instead he devoted his time making art while he did odd jobs on the side. This experience of not having fixed employment became a reoccurring subject matter within his artwork. Untitled (Fig. 3) is Ishida's response to the mind-numbing work he was faced with. Under this economic stagnation, people become distant and materialistic. Figures in Ishida's paintings always wear wooden expressions that reflect the social climate at the time.

Tetsuya Ishida once said, "I want to paint well. I want to paint the world according to my feelings, so that others can freely experience them. I want my feelings to make them smile or scare them." Ishida's desire to convey his personal feelings to others partly stemmed from his identification with the American left-wing artist Ben Shahn (Fig. 4) — he also wanted to change society through art. In the 200 some works that Ishida left behind, one figure—a short-haired youth— seems to appear again and again. This figure is Ishida's selfportrait and frequently appears multiple times within the same composition. These figures experience different oppressions and aggressions within the environments that Ishida crafts— the takeaway often being that the value of a person is no different from that of a machine or an object. These absurd scenes are both humorous and pitiful. Japanese viewers will probably identify with these clones because they share a similar upbringing during the lost decade. Tetsuya Ishida's self-portrait is also everyone's portrait. In today's globalised world, countless people all over the world are forced to live lonely lives like cogs in a machine. They too are the clones in Ishida's work who have lost themselves in the endless doldrum.

Tetsuya Ishida participated in the 1996 Mainichi Design Awards. His work, Toyota Ipsum (Lot 8), was created for the competition. While it was not chosen as the winner for commercial purposes, it was awarded a special prize by the jury in recognition for its artistic merit. After almost twenty years, Toyota Ipsum was shown in the 2015 Venice Biennale (Fig. 5). Created early in Ishida's career, in retrospect, the significance of this painting has far exceeded its original intention of winning a competition. It is an important milestone in the artist's creative career.

Toyota Ipsum did not follow conventions within the advertising industry to enlarge the image product, nor did it try to fabricate a scene of revel and excitement. The image is entirely the work of the artist's subjective imagination: human is the soul of this work, not the car. Seven figures in suits are more akin to circus clowns than office workers. The profound way in which these figures are depicted belies Ishida's deep empathy with the struggles of these sales representatives. The seven figures carry auto parts on their backs, firmly establishing the connection between man and machine. Their car-shaped backpacks resemble the book bags of elementary school students, calling to mind the idea that the hierarchal system of Japanese workforce is no different than the school system. The way that the seven figures are positioned resembles a childhood game of train. Yet, the joyousness and innocence of this game are completely nullified by the overwhelming waves of humiliation and sense of alienation that seem to radiate from these men. The eerie atmosphere echoes Balthus' surrealistic treatment in The Street (Fig. 6). It captures the intangible sense of alienation that is an integral part of humanity.

In a society where capitalistic values dominate every aspect of our lives, art is not sufficient in and of itself to change the status quo. However, the value of humanity is reaffirmed through art — it soothes the hurt and saves the lost. There will never be perfect solutions to the world's problems, though Tetsuya Ishida's paintings quietly awaken our desensitised nerves and encourage us to reflect on the meaning of life.

More from Contemporaries: Voices from East and West / Asian 20th Century & Contemporary Art (Evening Sale)

View All
View All