TETSUYA ISHIDA (1973–2005)
TETSUYA ISHIDA (1973–2005)


TETSUYA ISHIDA (1973–2005)
acrylic on canvas laid on board
59.4 x 42 cm. (23 3/8 x 16 ½ in.)
Executed in 2002
Private collection, Asia
Guardian Garden (ed.), Works by Tetsuya Ishida: A Posthumous Catalogue, Kyuryudo Art Publishing Co., Tokyo, Japan, 2006 (Illustrated, p. 77).
Katsuhiko Yokoyama, Nerima Art Museum (ed.), Tetsuya Ishida – Our Self Portraits, Nerima Art Museum Publishing, Tokyo, Japan, 2008 (Illustrated, plate 46, p.34)
Tetsuya Ishida: Complete, Kyuryudo Art Publishing Co., Tokyo, Japan, 2010 (Illustrated, plate 130, p. 135).
Tetsuya Ishida: Complete, Kyuryudo Art Publishing Co.Kiyoshi Ejiri, Shoko Kawatani, Tsumoru Sugimoto, Shigeru Katsuyama, Masato Horikiri, Nao Fukushima (ed.), Tetsuya Ishida’s Notes, Kyuryudo Art Publishing Co., Tokyo, Japan, 2013 (Illustrated, plate 116, p. 176)., Tokyo, Japan, 2010 (Illustrated, plate 130, p. 135).
Tokyo, Japan, Nerima Art Museum, Tetsuya Ishida – Our Self Portraits, 9 November – 28 December, 2008
Tochigi, Japan, Ashikaga Museum of Art, Tetsuya Ishida Notes, 7 September – 27 October 2013. This exhibition later travelled to Kanagawa, Japan, Hiratsuka Museum of Art, 12 April – 15 June 2014; Toyama, Japan, Tonami Art Museum, 6 September – 5 October 2014; Shizuoka, Japan, Shizuoka Prefectural Art Museum, 24 January – 25 March 2015.

Brought to you by

Jacky Ho (何善衡)
Jacky Ho (何善衡) Senior Vice President, Deputy Head of Department

Lot Essay

An adolescent girl, eyes shut, bare arms draped languidly over the back of a wooden chair. She seems to be kneeling, yet in place of legs, there is a gigantic pink clothes pin. Through this haunting image, one enters Tetsuya Ishida’s hallucinatory and melancholic world.

Ishida was born in 1973 in Yaizu, Shizuoka, Japan, and came of age in what is often considered the Lost Decade, a period of prolonged economic recession following the burst of the Japanese economic bubble in 1991. During this time, many young people could not find jobs – feeling hopeless, they retreated from society, increasingly emotionally detached. They became hikikomori – withdrawn recluses, unable to communicate with others. Ishida’s practice explores these themes of anxiety and isolation with a surrealist bend. He paints in an exquisite hyper-realist style – we can see individual hairs on the girl’s head, patterns on the woodgrain of the chair – yet his images take on a dream-like quality, where figures often possess machine limbs or merge into household objects, reducing human beings into inanimate tools or furniture.

It is this sense of emotional isolation and ambiguity that Ishida explores in the present picture. The girl’s closed eyes and expressionless face leave the viewer wondering – what is going on inside her head? Are her eyes shut out of despondence? Or do the dark rings around them suggest exhaustion? She is clothed in a white nightdress – has she been in her sleepwear all day? One cat arches its neck away from us while licking its paws, eyes invisible, echoing the closed eyes of the girl. The other cat is sprawled across the floor, body limp. We see only its back and are left to imagine if it is asleep or awake, alive or otherwise.

The central characters depicted in Ishida’s paintings are almost always young men that bear a striking resemblance to the artist, suggesting an autobiographical reading to his narratives. While women or girls are occasionally present in Ishida’s pictures, they are typically in supporting roles – nurses, shopkeepers, mothers, lovers. The present picture is exceedingly rare, in that the girl is the sole human subject. No coincidence that she is depicted in a domestic setting with distinct feminine features, such as the floral decoration of the chair’s upholstery, as well as the red checked curtains, soft and ruffled. The cats – and this is the only occasion that Ishida features cats in his painting – are also relatively feminine when compared with the cockroaches, crocodiles, and dogs that feature in Ishida’s other works. All this indicate that in Ishida’s world, gender roles are separated, and women exist in a domain apart from men.

This girl merges into a pink clothespin, a decidedly feminine tool. In fact, on the only other occasion where Ishida paints a girl ‘cyborg’ character, in 1996, it is a variation on the same theme, where the girl also merges into a clothespin. Much of Ishida’s work explores how the youth in Japan are repressed by societal expectations – studying for exams, doing menial jobs, trapped by the claustrophobic city. The objects that Ishida merges with his male characters – vehicles, buildings, machines, tools – are usually associated with aspects that give men pressure, in the endless rat race to work, to build, and to provide. While women in Japanese society are not bound by the same pressures as the salaryman, another set of stifling expectations are imposed upon them. The clothespin represents domestic chores, the infinite and monotonous tasks of cleaning, cooking, laundering, tidying that are expected of women, crushing any dreams of individuality. The girl sits behind spindles of a curved chair, as though she is trapped in a bird cage. Despite the curtain that hints to a world outside, it remains out of reach. Ishida does not even give an indication of whether it is day or night, the nightmare never-ending.

From his early career until his untimely death in a train accident in 2005, Ishida created around 200 pictures that provide a vivid allegory of the challenges faced by Japanese youth. Despite his dark subjects, Ishida evokes a certain sympathy for his subjects, as though painting is his way of searching for meaning or redemption. His unflinching honesty and courage in tackling difficult issues make his paintings some of the most moving and compelling images of his generation.

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