Issei Nishimura: Happy Trip Advisor
Heartfield Gallery
Nagoya, Japan
January 19 through February 5, 2023

by Edward M. Gómez

NAGOYA, JAPAN — One doesn’t just stumble upon a picture made by the artist Issei Nishimura and move on after a quick, cursory glance. Instead, the reclusive Japanese artist’s paintings seem to grab their viewers by the neck, shake them, and pull them into the vortexes of their rambunctious, rollicking, take-no-prisoners compositions.

If a work of art can be described as possessing the irresistible force-field energy of a black hole situated many light years away in far, deep outer space, then that tag certainly applies to many of the paintings that emerge from Nishimura’s studio.

Nishimura’s expressive productions communicate with gusto but without shouting; their sense of urgency is that of the voice of, say, punk rock mixed, curiously, with that of a sensitive spiritual seeker reconnecting with the world following a period of deep, illuminating, soul-stirring introspection.

As brutjournal has reported in the past, Nishimura is one of the most original artists working in Japan today. His work is hard to classify using familiar labels. Neither the Japanese art market, such as it is, nor the Japanese media’s almost non-existent critical establishment seems to know what to make of his wildly expressionist paintings, and almost no representatives of those two worlds have ever seen any of the artist’s strange, often psychologically intense drawings on paper.

For Nishimura, the subjects of his drawings and paintings are deeply personal; often they are plucked from or refer to the everyday life of the artist, who lives with his parents in the northeastern outskirts of Nagoya, a large, commercial city in central Japan that is famous for its automotive and aircraft industries.

In Nishimura’s art, do not expect to find ironic takes on the ubiquitous kawaiimono (cute things) that are such a big part of Japanese pop culture. Instead, look for his unexpected approaches to everything from dinosaurs and boozers to the meaningful insights that may emerge during a fulfilling, meditative session on the toilet.

Recently, I joined Yutaka Miyawaki, the owner and director of Galerie Miyawaki, on a visit to Heartfield Gallery in downtown Nagoya, where Nishimura’s latest solo exhibition, Happy Trip Advisor, is now on view. Galerie Miyawaki is the artist’s main representative in Japan. It collaborates with Heartfield Gallery to present Nishimura’s work in Nagoya, and it was Miyawaki who had organized this new exhibition.

A view of part of Issei Nishimura’s solo exhibition, Happy Trip Advisor, which is being presented at Heartfield Gallery in Nagoya, Japan, from January 19 through February 5, 2023.

“For a long time, earlier during the pandemic period, Issei lost his sense of motivation,” Miyawaki told me. He explained, “Normally, he is extremely active and energetic; he is a prolific artist, but during that slowdown, he found it hard to create. Then, last year, he began bouncing back. He picked up his pace and resumed making his art with his usual vigor.”

For Nishimura, Miyawaki noted, his recent Heartfield exhibition marked a kind of spiritual return. “In fact, since he started making art again, he has produced so many strong pieces that making a selection for this latest gallery show turned out to be a challenging task,” Miyawaki said.

Nishimura was born in 1978 in Aichi Prefecture, of which Nagoya is the capital. In his youth, he enjoyed making drawings and later he became interested in American blues music and began playing the electric guitar. As a young man, Nishimura moved to Tokyo to study music, but socializing and life in the capital were difficult for him. He found himself withdrawing from society. He took refuge in his art and music. After returning to his family home, he devoted himself to making art.

As a result, references to music and to food, cats, everyday gestures and various aspects of home life often appear in Nishimura’s work. He can take a subject as simple as a mushroom and develop it into an entire, sketchbook-filling suite of drawings, or spin an image or information tidbit gleaned from current news headlines into an exuberant, complex painting.

In such works, multiple layers of paint both obscure and, upon close inspection, reveal his stylized, exaggerated depictions of his subjects. This technique can create the illusion of spatial depth, even though, at first glance, Nishimura’s layers of marks can wallop a viewer visually with their bold passages of brightly colored, thickly applied globs of paint.

This time at Heartfield Gallery, Nishimura’s images included those of an intoxicated man in need of more booze, a pink dinosaur on the prowl, a “War Demon” with a set of big, seriously ominous teeth, and a wiry figure on a toilet dubbed the “Happy Trip Advisor.”

Because Nishimura is such a recluse, as Miyawaki pointed out, he had no intention of stopping by Heartfield Gallery to see his latest show. In fact, to date, he has never seen any solo or group exhibition in which his work has been presented. In general, he remains keenly focused on his art and, for recreation, he plays his guitar and listens to music, relaxes with his cat, and peruses the news online.

While Miyawaki and I were examining Nishimura’s exhibition along with Heartfield Gallery’s director, Chieko Sonobe, and the artist’s father, the painter rang in and chatted with us via video call. “The gallery is full with visitors right now,” we told him. I pointed out that several younger viewers had expressed special interest in the exuberance of his colors and in the way he thrashes his subjects around within each painting’s pictorial space.

Yokatta, yokatta. Ureshii,” Nishimura replied. (“Good, good. That makes me happy.”) The artist’s beaming face appeared on the little screen of his father’s mobile phone. After he rang off, we all looked at each other, fully aware that, for Nishimura, something as simple as our phone call could very well inspire a new painting.

“His creative slump is over,” Miyawaki said. “As this exhibition demonstrates, Issei is back.”

[Scroll down to see more paintings from Issei Nishimura’s exhibition at Heartfield Gallery in Nagoya, Japan.]

Three paintings by Issei Nishimura; from left to right: “Run-out-of-booze Father, No. 1,” “Ciao Girl,” and “Run-out-of-booze Father, No. 2”; all artworks dated 2022.