Tetsuya Ishida: Four Paintings (Venice Biennale 2015)

The surrealist paintings of Tetsuya Ishida (石田 徹也) expose the pressure and anxieties of ordinary life in urban Japan. His paintings capture the essence of how difficult it can be to try to bear the weight of society’s expectations.

The above photos were taken at the Central Pavilion of the the Giardini at the Venice Biennale 2015. Click on any of the photos to open them in slideshow view.

I will briefly discuss two paintings here. As a teacher in a rigid high-pressured education system, I can easily relate to the painting set in a classroom—Seedlings (めばえ, 1998). In this painting, students, some of whom are bored to tears and some of whom seem to have merged with microscopes—sit as a teacher, his face hidden from view,  holds a textbook in one hand while resting his other hand on the head of one of the student-microscopes. Are these hybrids of humans and scientific instruments supposed to be freaks or do they represent the most ‘successful’ students—those with a single-minded focus on studying, those who are already committed to fulfilling their destiny as cogs in society’s machine?

In Recalled (1998), the idea of the salaryman as a replaceable commodity—a kind of appliance meant to be assembled, repaired and ultimately discarded—is contrasted with the traditional cultural aspects in the frame: the floor mats, the kimono, the tiny calligraphy desk, the kneeling family members. Are those by his side showing their love or merely carrying out the duties expected of them?

In A Soldier (めばえ, 1996) an anxious looking salaryman huddles down in a housing estate, umbrella at the ready, his pose calling to mind a WWI soldier crouching in a trench. Much of the imagery in Ishida’s painting is very specific to Japan; however, the feelings of alienation and anxiety are familiar to many of us around the world.

The painting I liked best was the most positive one—Jellyfish’s Dream (クラゲの夢, 1998), which shows a man in bed, sleeping comfortably, wrapped within a floating gossamer womb. In our harsh and dehumanizing modern world, we can still find refuge in dreams.

Tetsuya Ishida: Mini-bio

Mini-bio: Japanese artist Tetsuya Ishida was born in Yaizu, Shizuoka in 1973 and attended Musashino Art University. He is known for his surreal depictions of life in Japan. He had been developing a successful career as an artist before he was struck and killed by a train at a level crossing in 2005. Whether his death was an accident or suicide is unknown.

Go Further

This section includes links to online photo galleries and websites, discussion questions and an art challenge.

Online Galleries

Higher resolution images (e.g. 2048 x 1365) can be viewed online at:

Let’s Watch

[SUB]URBAN—An Unauthorized Introduction To Tetsuya Ishida: Video by WorkshopLoVi


Three Questions

  1. Which of the four works do you like best? Why?
  2. What is the biggest pressure you have to handle in your own life?
  3. How could you represent that pressure visually (i.e., in a work of art?)

Art Challenge

This is based on the second and third questions. Draw a scene that represents the biggest pressure in your life at the moment.

~ text and photos by longzijun


Return to Artjouer’s Gallery of Artists

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