April 21, 2019
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Anxiety seeps from Tetsuya Ishida's art in first European retrospective

Madrid, Apr 11 (efe-epa).- Tetsuya Ishida's career was cut short when he died at the tender age of 31 but his surreal existential canvasses offer a glimpse into the anxiety-ridden years of Japan's 1990s, the director of the Reina Sofía Museum said on Thursday at the preview of his retrospective.

"Self Portrait of Other," a collection of 70 haunting and dark paintings and illustrations, which convey a deep sense of loneliness and despair, hang in stark contrast to the bright and airy venue of the Velázquez Palace in Madrid's Retiro Park.

"He reflects the loneliness of human beings like few others," Manuel Borkja-Villel, director of the Reina Sofía said at the press launch.

"He belonged to a generation that was trapped in between two ways of being the world: the 'karoshi', which is when someone's dedication to their employer leads to death due to being overworked, and 'hikikomori' those young people who never leave their homes," he added.

Both phenomena relate to the same thing: the destructive power of an economic system that can lead to utter solitude and, at its worst, obliterate life.

The Japanese visual artist was deeply concerned with the effect of modern life and a fast-paced technological sector on Japanese society and his works recurrently grapple with this theme.

In "Waiting for a Chance" (1999) patients in a hospital lie and sit on rusty old cars with missing windows.

Borja-Villel talked of a character with a glazed look that stares into the distance featured in most of Ishido's artworks who appears to be "trapped in between dystopic spaces."

And Ishido places this character on his canvasses with a chilling realism seemingly devoid of any emotion, Borja-Villel added.

Ishido could have run the risk of alienating the viewer with the sheer rawness of his paintings, but by injecting humor and a certain degree of melancholy the artist overcame this distance he could have generated with his audience.

"That is why his work is not paralyzing, to the contrary, this frostiness provokes a sense of empathy within the viewer," the director mused.

The director referred to the "Toyota Ipsum" canvass from 1996, which depicts seven factory workers who have become so at one with their profession that their limbs take on the shape of car parts: feet become cars and ears take the shape of tires, a style that soon had critics labeling the artist's work as "kafkian."

It was this work that put Ishida in the spotlight at the Venice Biennial in 2005, the expert continued.

"Seedlings" (1998) a painting of students, some of which are half human/half robots is a clear reference to the pressures of society to conform and something the artist suffered first hand when his parents put pressure on him to become a chemist or teacher when he was a young man.

He defied his parent's wishes and went to art school graduating in 1996. Throughout this period his parents refused to help him financially.

A recurring feature throughout his work depicts images of people trapped in confined and surreal spaces, perhaps a reflection of the author's anxiety.

"Public Property" (1999) sees three faces being dug out of a zebra crossing.

Ishida's dark surrealism saw him play with merging human bodies with animals, an influence of the Japanese philosophy of animism and European surrealism.

In "Long Distance" (1999) his recurrent muse has the body of a seahorse as he takes a phone call in a booth in the middle of a dark motorway.

Anxiety seeps from Ishida's canvasses.

For Teresa Velázquez, the curator of the show, the effects of growing up during Japan's so-called "lost decade," a deep financial crisis and period of economic stagnation that started in the early 1990s and the consequences of which are still felt today, are key to understanding his work

Ishida put a face to the capitalist crisis that plagued the nation through his recurrent character who represents any person who feels they have no future, Velázquez added.

"In just ten years (Ishida) told the story of an overwhelming crisis," the curator concluded.

Ishida died at the age of 31 (2005) when he was struck by a train at a level crossing. There is speculation that the artist's death could have been suicide.

"Tetsuya Ishida: Self-portrait of Other," runs from Apr. 12 to Sept. 8 at the Velázquez Palace in Madrid's Retiro Park.

The exhibition which has been organized by the Reina Sofía Museum is then set to tour to the Wrightwood Gallery in Chicago, United States, from Oct. 3 to Dec.14. EFE-EPA

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