Chicago Shimpo
Exhibition “Tetsuya Ishida: Self-Portrait of Other” Begins at Wrightwood 659
The Artist Achieved techniques in 10 Years that Usually Takes One’s Life Time

• Tetsuya Ishida’s retrospective exhibition “Self-Portrait of Other” opened on October 3 at the gallery in Wrightwood 659 in Chicago. Ishida, called as a contemporary cult Japanese artist, left about 200 works during 10 years until he was killed by a railroad-crossing accident in 2005 at his age of 31.
• The exhibition was organized by the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid, Spain, in collaboration with the Halsted A&A Foundation, and features more than 70 works, which were displayed in the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia from April 12 to September 8 where far more than 300,000 visitors observed Ishida’s works.

• The exhibit venue of Wrightwood 659 is a 1920s’ building whose interior was redesigned by renowned Japanese architect Tadao Ando and completed in fall 2018. In the overwhelming space from the first to the fifth floor, each floor is connected by inflective stairs. Of course you can use elevators for your convenience.

• On the opening day of the “Self-Portrait of Other”, Teresa Velazques, who discovered Ishida’s works at the 56th Venice Biennale in 2015 and exhibited his 70 plus works at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia in Madrid, appeared at the venue and explained her view of Ishida’s surrealism.

• Ishida’s oldest brother, Michiaki Ishida, and Ishida’s counselor Yumie Wada, President of the Wada Fine Arts, also attended and responded to Shimpo’s interview. They talked about the personality of Tetsuya Ishida, who was unknown at his time of death, but talented and ambitious artist.

Exhibition: Self-Portrait of Other

• Tetsuya Ishida spent his adolescence in the first serious recession after Japan’s rapid economic growth after WWII. To cut the labor cost, Japanese companies moved to automation production systems or built factories in foreign countries where the labor cost was lower. Decimating layoffs occurred, and the virtue of a lifetime commitment to his or her company was fading away; on the other hand, the society was filled with mass production and consumerism. Ishida was sensitive enough to express his biting satire toward human dignity, school education issues and controlled social structure through his art works.

• Teresa Velazques, curator of the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, said that Ishida’s works could be seen as a commentary on modern consumer culture which was shared by Western artists who had addressed similar issues. “However, upon closer inspection and understanding, Ishida’s work has a quality that is unique to his own time and culture,” Velasques said. She recalled the 56th Venice Biennale where her eyes were drawn to Ishida’s works among numerous works by other artists and said that she was shocked by Ishida’s works.

Tetsuya Ishida’s Personality Told by His Brother and Counselor

• Did Ishida, who lived in “the Lost Decade”, emotionally draw whatever came to his mind in a gloomy mood? Was Ishida one of hikikomori people who turned inward and stayed in their rooms with the door closed? Did Ishida find a resort in painting and become reluctant to turn away from the canvas?

• Tetsuya Ishida’s brother Michiaki said, “Tetsuya wasn’t a hikikomori at all. He was a reticent, but an ordinary guy and had many friends, painter fellows and colleagues in his work places.” Michiaki often visited Tetsuya’s residence in Tokyo.

• Michiaki also said, “In part, Tetsuya actually aimed to express the mind state of hikikomori people and got it into his paintings. He planned what he was going to paint next, so he was looking at the society in an objective way. Conversely, he might be saying, ‘I did it,’ when people think that he was a hikikomori.”

• Yumie Wada, Ishida’s gallery president and his counselor, said, “Tetsuya achieved the techniques in a 10-year period that usually takes one’s lifetime.” “His oldest brother Michiaki is a registered architect with a first-class license and President of Tetsu architect studio, the second brother is a professional in the financial field, and the third brother is a fashion designer. So, Tetsuya was saying, ‘I want to do my best for my profession,” Wada continued.

• According to Wada, after graduating from Musashino Art University of Visual Communication Design, Ishida felt that he really wanted to become an artist, not a designer or illustrator. “That’s why he wanted to do oil painting on a canvas, choose universal themes and deepen them seriously,” Wada said.

• Ishida worked hard to become an artist. For example, his work “Sleeping Bagworm” in his college year of 1995, is a kind of a design work, but the left side of his work "Restless Dream (in 1996)" was very much improved technically.
• Ishida left over 200 works in his lifetime. That means 20 pieces per year and indicates how much he devoted himself to his paintings. Ishida’s closest friend Isamu Hirabayasi said in his retrospective note that Ishida never stopped his painting hand while they were exchanging conversations at his home.

• After 2000, Wada said that Isida’s art style, which was typically merging humans into objects, changed to still-life painting. Although his new style was deep and good art, Wada thought that he needed his originality, which was in his works in the 1990s, to establish his own artistic life. She argued with Ishida about his originality. In his sense, there was no originality because everybody must have been influenced by life experiences. So he said that originality was not originality even if one thought that his or her originality was their own.

• After their arguments, Ishida didn’t appear at Wada’s gallery. About three months later he brought an art work and showed it to Wada. It was “Body Fluides (2004)”, a human face was on the top of a sink, and endless tears were falling from the eyes of the face. Wada said that it was too sad and rough, and she hardly looked at it.

• Wada said that Ishida’s works in the 1990s had humor in them, but after the arguments, his works were dominated by the sense of despair. Ishida told her that he would not return to his past paintings.
• “I regret what I did. I shouldn’t force him to back his past works while he was searching his way of the future,” Wada said.

• To make his living, Ishida was working at two places, a printing company and a security firm, from late at night to early morning. According to Hirabayashi’s note, an accident happened while Ishida was working at the security firm. While Ishida and his colleagues were guiding a truck to a dock, one on the colleagues was killed between the truck and a wall. Ishida was accused by the others saying, “It’s your fault.” Herabayashi wrote that Ishida might fall in a depression after the accident.

• Ishida, however, talked positively about his future plans saying, “I’m going to work on objects or scenes with bright colors. For example, only waves are depicted on a canvas.” It was a half year before his death.

• Ishida ended his life on May 23, 2005 by an accident at a railroad crossing near his home.
• Ishida’s brother Michiaki said, “He touched a running train. His home was located alongside of a railroad. I was with him a day before the accident. We didn’t drink at all, but he might be tired. I didn’t recognize it at that time.”

• The Ishida family published his art collection book and held Ishida’s last exhibition at Wada’s gallery. After that, the family thought to discard all of his works. But a NHK director came to the last exhibit and broadcast his works in NHK’s Sunday art program which gained public attention. His works drew public empathy, and a national touring exhibition has been held since then.

• On the other hand, Velazques contacted Michiaki though Ishida’s official website. While he was exchanging e-mails with Velazques, he made sure that she was serious to hold an exhibition at Madrid.

• According to Hirabayasi’s notes, the ineloquent Ishida said that he wanted to go Europe or the U.S. where one’s art works were assessed by quality. After 10 years from his death, Ishida’s works traveled to Venice then Madrid, and now are exhibited in Chicago, in the U.S.

* Editor’s note: I think when you know more about the artist Tetsuya Ishida, you would feel closeness to the works exhibited in Wrightwood 659. I would like to express my gratitude for Mr. Michiaki Ishida and Ms. Yumie Wada, who talked about Tetsuya despite the pain they still feel for the loss of Tetsuya.

During the period of the Ishida exhibition, there will be additional programs such as weekly tours, panel discussions and lectures. For more information, visit

Tetsuya Ishida: Self-Portrait of Other (Oct. 3 – Dec. 14)
◆Location: Wrightwood 659, 659 W. Wrightwood Ave., Chicago
◆Time: Thursdays and Fridays 12:00 pm – 8:00 pm, Saturdays 10:00 am – 7:00 pm
◆Tickets: General admission $16 (All visits to Wrightwood 659 require a reservation. Tickets for Tetsuya Ishida: Self-Portrait of Other and Tadao Ando: Museums and Galleries are available, online only, at During the exhibition, free general admission tickets will be released each Monday for the current week.)

Tetsuya Ishida's retrospective exhibition has been held at Wrightwood 569.

Tetsuya Ishida's brother, Michiaki Ishida, stands in front of Tetsuya's work.

Tetsuya Ishida's work "Body Fluids (Taieki) 2004" which was painted
after he and Wada argued on his originality.