At the age of 42, Nobuhiro Ishihara just opened his first solo show in New York at Chelsea’s I-20 gallery. Ishihara studied at the School of Visual Arts, then returned to Japan for 20 years, where he exhibited intermittently. "Because he is the son of the Governor (the equivalent of Mayor) of Tokyo, many people bought his work, but some suspected that he was not really succeeding on his own," Ishihara’s friend, the distinguished curator Masashi Shiobara, told us at the opening.
So Ishihara returned to New York, opened a studio in Brooklyn and created the extraordinarily monstrous work featured at I-20. Already there is a secondary market brewing for the artist, underscored by the presence of Chelsea dealer Christophe van de Weghe at a Bottino dinner in the artist’s honor. The show itself is marked by two riveting large paintings, as the smaller work is just so-so. Untitled depicts a friendly gorgon emerging a black forest of twigs and branches, as if ready to regurgitate on the floor. The figure is reminiscent of Maurice Sendak’s wild things merged with a self-portrait of the artist.
More striking is the long, phallic Deer Man, which perambulates around the room through several colored and black-and-white panels, from hangdog head through centipede legs to shaggy tail. Deer Man projects an endearing goofiness through the room, far more authentic than so much cookie-cutter Japanese art. At the center of this delayed but promising career is Nobuhiro Ishihara himself, a humble man who glows with comedic self-satisfaction absent any hint of ego. He is the anti-Murakami and based on two pieces of promise, an artist to watch.
Nobuhiro Ishihara, Jan. 17-Feb. 16, 2008, at I-20, 557 West 23rd Street, New York, N.Y. 10001
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).