Tetsuya Ishida
Born in Yaizu, Shizuoka, Japan, in 1973; died in Tokyo, Japan, in 2005.
He lived and worked in Tokyo.

The Japanese painter Tetsuya Ishida came of age during an economic boom that abruptly collapsed and sent his country into a prolonged financial crisis, characterized by feelings of stagnation, isolation, and hopelessness. Sadly, Ishida died at the age of thirty-one when he was struck by a train at a railroad crossing in a western suburb of Tokyo. Fortunately, his artistic legacy is expansive and illuminating, offering a compendium of surrealistic imagery that reflects the mood of Japanese society in the 1990s and early 2000s. Ishida channeled the social psychology of that so-called lost decade into a trancelike narrative illustrated by figures that appear to suffer calmly through strange and unusual circumstances.
Graduating from Tokyo’s Musashino Art University in 1996, Ishida was an ambitious oil painter with a labyrinthine and nightmarish imagination. Metamorphosis is a recurrent visual trope. In his paintings, Ishida subjects the defenseless human body to myriad Kafkaesque or Boschian transformations. The arms of ordinary-looking men wearing business suits morph into crab claws, such as in Guchi (Complaint) (1996), or into arm-long conveyor belts, as in Supermarket (1996). In one especially frightful example, Long Distance (1999), a figure inside a telephone booth has the head of a forlorn-looking man but the body of a seahorse. In another painting, Untitled (2) (1998), eight young men, all without legs, are shown eating, sleeping, reading, and defecating in the squalor of a crowded apartment above a nondescript food market. Instead of clothing, each figure wears a plastic shopping bag; the bag’s handles become shoulder straps. As biology, technology, and consumer culture fuse in these fantastic combinations, they incite wonder, but more so anguish and desperation for an escape from the curse of living through Japan’s economic crisis.
Ishida’s paintings appear to illustrate his methods of coping with pervasive economic recession not only in Japan, but also in the precarious political and economic conditions of the world at large. While his narrative compositions are distinctly Japanese in their details, people around the world respond viscerally to them. This universal response points to a more pervasive and insidious concern about the future of society and human progress. To look at Ishida’s paintings is to experience the emotional tension of these uncertain times.


  • Title: Recalled and Awakening
  • Creator: Tetsuya Ishida
  • Date Created: 1998
  • Rights: Awakening: Courtesy Shizuoka Prefectural Museum of Art, Recalled: Courtesy Gagosian Gallery, Hong Kong, Photo by Alessandra Chemollo; Courtesy: la Biennale di Venezia
  • Medium: Awakening: acrylic on panel, Recalled: acrylic on paper, panel

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