Delirious Metropolis – Toru Ishii’s modern vision of hell

Toru IshiiI’ve just been to see Toru Ishii’s first solo exhibition in the UK, Delirious Metropolis, at the Daiwa Foundation. It’s a small show, just ten pictures in all, but the level of detail and excitement crammed into each one is remarkable. Even more remarkable is Ishii’s technique – these aren’t paintings, they’re Yuzen dying on silk. 

I liked the first part of the exhibition best. It’s complex, colourful and highly satirical. It’s titled Salarymen and supposedly shows the office workers who fill the streets and skyscrapers of every Japanese city, easily recognisable by their black suits, white shirts and conservative ties. But the salarymen Ishii shows us are nothing like that – they’re skull-headed pirates with electric-pink ties and rolled umbrellas sharp as swords who fight a running battle against a background of blue seas and the Tokyo Sky Tree, the newly built telecoms tower than now dominates the Tokyo skyline.

Toru Ishii

This picture is called On the Crossroad, and anyone who’s had the daunting experience of fighting their way across Shibuya’s famous scramble crossing will sympathise with the feelings of the battling pirates in this work.

Toru Ishii

Toru Ishii

This one, On the Soba Shop, shows the beleaguered salaryman eating his lunch in one of the thousands of ramen shops in every big city in Japan. The chopsticks look thoroughly dangerous, as though they’re about to stab the poor salaryman in the eye, while a disembodied hand reaches for his throat and a computer looks about to smash into the side of his head.

Toru Ishii

Office worker (detail below) gives us a painted head on a long tail agains a background of boiling red.

Toru Ishii

Routine Life goes to the other extreme – gold on black, its fine detail is hard to discern until you get up close and pick out the skull-headed samurai with banners raised on a battlefield set in front of the ubiquitous Sky Tree.

Toru Ishii

Toru Ishii

The second part, After-image, is much more subdued, both in tone and subject. It depicts the everyday incidents and accidents that occur in a modern city as seen through the mediating eye of television and the internet.

This is called Traffic Accident:

Toru Ishii

And this one, Gun Down II:

Toru Ishii

The darker tones reflect the tradition indigo blues of Japanese dying, and it’s worth taking a closer look to see the detail of the design work.

Toru Ishii

Ishii uses the Itome Yuzen dyeing method, a paste rest dying technique which allows for freehand drawing rather than just repeated pattern. It uses very fine outlines, called itome, made with rice starch paste squeezed from a cone, like icing a cake. Patterned areas are then brush-dyed, in a technique dating back to the seventeenth century. Part of the attraction of Ishii’s work is this combination of ancient technique with representations of the digital world we now live in.

Toru Ishii

The exhibition continues until 15th July. It’s open Monday to Friday, 9.30am to 5.00pm. The Daiwa Foundation is in Cornwall Terrace, on the edge of Regent’s Park.

4 thoughts on “Delirious Metropolis – Toru Ishii’s modern vision of hell

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