Over the course of just ten years, Tetsuya Ishida (1973–2005) produced a striking body of work centered on themes of human isolation and alienation. Ishida came of age as an artist during Japan’s “lost decade,” a period of nationwide economic recession that lasted through the 1990s. His paintings capture the feelings of hopelessness, claustrophobia, and emotional isolation that dominated Japanese society during this time, even—or perhaps especially—in the wake of its rapid technological advancement. From his early career until his untimely death in 2005, Ishida conjured vivid allegories of the challenges to Japanese life and morale in paintings and graphic works charged with Kafkaesque absurdity.
Ishida was born in Yaizu, Shizuoka Prefecture, Japan. An early encounter with the illustration work of Lithuanian American Social Realist Ben Shahn—specifically his images of the 1954 Lucky Dragon incident, in which Japanese fishermen were exposed to radiation from a nuclear bomb test conducted by the United States military—proved formative to his creative vision. Ishida’s focus on social commentary was established through his participation in a local writing contest, to which he submitted a response to Shahn’s art, and a 1984 human-rights-themed manga competition, which he entered with a comic strip titled Yowaimonoijime wa yameyou! (Stop Bullying Weaklings!), which underscored his concerns about an overdependence on technology.
In 1992, Ishida enrolled at Musashino Art University in Tokyo, earning a degree in Visual Communication Design in 1996. That same year he began exhibiting paintings at galleries in the Ginza district. Between 1996 and 2005, Ishida showed his paintings across the country, and in 1998, they were included in the first auction of East Asian contemporary art at Christie’s—alongside the work of a young Takashi Murakami—contributing to a surge in interest in his practice.
Ishida produced a total of 217 paintings during his lifetime, many of which were not discovered until years later. Often depicting identical-looking students and white-collar “salarymen” fused with machines, buildings, and consumer products, they convey a sense of foreboding and desperation emphasized by a subdued palette of blues and grays. The unsettling disfigurements endured by his subjects allegorize the pressures placed on Japanese citizens by their country’s changing identity, and by the myriad challenges of integrating new technologies into existing social and professional structures.
Ishida died at the age of thirty-one after he was struck by a train at a level crossing in Machida, Tokyo. In 2007, his family donated twenty-one of his paintings to the Shizuoka Prefectural Museum of Art. Ishida’s work has also been the subject of posthumous solo exhibitions at venues including Nerima Art Museum, Tokyo (2008); Ashikaga Museum of Art, Japan (2013, traveled to Hiratsuka Museum of Art, Japan; Tonami Art Museum, Japan; and Shizuoka Prefectural Museum of Art, Japan, through 2015); Saving the World with a Brushstroke, Asian Art Museum, San Francisco (2014–15); and Self-Portrait of Other, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid (2019, traveled to Wrightwood 659, Chicago). Ishida’s work was also included in the 4th Yokohama Triennale (2011), 10th Gwangju Biennale (2014), and 56th Biennale di Venezia (2015).
Tetsuya Ishida’s Nihilist Realism
Mika Yoshitake details the economic, psychological, and cultural conditions that gave rise to Tetsuya Ishida’s unique strain of Japanese postwar realism.
Tetsuya Ishida: Painter of Modern Life
Yūko Hasegawa explores the fantastical convergences and amalgamations in Tetsuya Ishida’s paintings, their connections to manga and advertising imagery, and the shift that occurred in the artist’s work as he moved from acrylic to oil paint in 2000.
Tetsuya Ishida’s Testimony
Edward M. Gómez writes on the Japanese artist’s singular aesthetic, describing him as an astute observer of the culture of his time.
Self-Portrait of Other
Tetsuya Ishida: Self-Portrait of Other is available for online reading through the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía website. Published on the occasion of the museum’s 2019 exhibition, the catalogue includes essays by Teresa Velázquez, Noi Sawaragi, Tamaki Saito, Kuniichi Uno, and Isamu Hirabayashi. Together the texts explore Ishida’s historical and contemporary influences, from manga to realism, capitalist alienation to age-old mythology.
Tetsuya Ishida: Self-Portrait of Other (Madrid: Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, 2019)
May 25–31, 2022
Tetsuya Ishida (1973–2005) came of age as a painter during Japan’s “lost decade”—a time of nationwide economic recession that lasted through the 1990s. In his afflictive paintings, he captured the feelings of hopelessness, claustrophobia, and emotional isolation that burdened him and dominated Japanese society. Throughout his career, Ishida provided vivid allegories of the challenges to Japanese life and morale in paintings and graphic works charged with dark Orwellian absurdity.
Photo: © Tetsuya Ishida, courtesy Estate of Tetsuya Ishida
Art Basel Hong Kong 2022
May 27–29, 2022, booth 1C15
Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre
Gagosian is pleased to participate in Art Basel Hong Kong 2022 with an ensemble of contemporary works by international artists. The gallery’s presentation will feature works by artists including Georg Baselitz, Louise Bonnet, Edmund de Waal, Urs Fischer, Katharina Grosse, Mark Grotjahn, Jennifer Guidi, Simon Hantaï, Hao Liang, Damien Hirst, Thomas Houseago, Tetsuya Ishida, Alex Israel, Ewa Juszkiewicz, Rick Lowe, Takashi Murakami, Albert Oehlen, Nam June Paik, Giuseppe Penone, Rudolf Polanszky, Sterling Ruby, Ed Ruscha, Jenny Saville, Jim Shaw, Rudolf Stingel, Spencer Sweeney, Rachel Whiteread, and Zeng Fanzhi.
Gagosian’s booth at Art Basel Hong Kong 2022. Artwork, left to right: © Georg Baselitz; © Louise Bonnet; © Zeng Fanzhi; © 2019 Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All rights reserved; © Rudolf Stingel. Photo: Martin Wong
Self-Portrait of Other
October 3–December 14, 2019
Wrightwood 659, Chicago
In a span of just ten years, Tetsuya Ishida (1973–2005) produced a formidable body of work centered on human isolation and alienation in a world dominated by uncontrollable forces. The exhibition features works that evoke the uncertainty and desolation of a Japanese society drastically altered by the technological advances and successive crises that have affected economies and politics all over the world. This exhibition originated at Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid, as Autorretrato de otro.
Tetsuya Ishida, Awakening, 1998 © Estate of Tetsuya Ishida
Autorretrato de otro
April 12–September 8, 2019
Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid
In a span of just ten years, Tetsuya Ishida (1973–2005) produced a formidable body of work centered on isolation and alienation in a world dominated by uncontrollable forces. This exhibition—whose title translates to Self-Portrait of Other—features works that evoke the uncertainty and desolation of a Japanese society drastically altered by the technological advances and successive crises that have affected economies and politics the world over.
Installation view, Tetsuya Ishida: Autorretrato de otro, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid, April 12–September 8, 2019. Artwork © Estate of Tetsuya Ishida
56th Biennale di Venezia
All the World’s Futures
May 9–November 22, 2015
Giardini and Arsenale, Venice
All the World’s Futures, curated by Okwui Enwezor for the 56th Biennale di Venezia, forms a unitary itinerary with over 136 artists from fifty-three countries, of whom eighty-nine are showing in the Biennale for the first time. The world before us today exhibits deep divisions and wounds, pronounced inequalities, and uncertainties as to the future. The exhibition aims to investigate how the tensions of the outside world act on the sensitivities and the vital and expressive energies of artists, on their desires and their inner songs. Work by Georg Baselitz, Ellen Gallagher, Theaster Gates, Katharina Grosse, Andreas Gursky, Carsten Höller, Tetsuya Ishida, and Taryn Simon is included.
Tetsuya Ishida, Recalled, 1998 © Estate of Tetsuya Ishida. Photo: Martin Wong
Saving the World with a Brushstroke
November 14, 2014–February 22, 2015
Asian Art Museum, San Francisco
The eight paintings shown in Saving the World with a Brushstroke cross the spectrum of Tetsuya Ishida’s major themes: workplace and academic pressures, the search for identity, and social dislocation. The exhibition title derives from an observation the artist recorded in a notebook at age twenty-five: “I am strongly drawn to saint-like artists. The people who truly believe that ‘the world is saved a little with each brushstroke.’” Whether Ishida believed his own works offer any salvation is left for each viewer to consider. This is the artist’s first exhibition in the United States.
Installation view, Tetsuya Ishida: Saving the World with a Brushstroke, Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, November 14, 2014–February 22, 2015. Artwork © Estate of Tetsuya Ishida. Photo: © Asian Art Museum, San Francisco