Eri Ishii brings a fresh sensibility to figurative painting, one that intuitively captures a moment in time. Loose brush strokes give her large, luminous pieces a palpable energy. Ishii’s work takes shape on grand square canvases through which she sees a three-dimensional world.
Using a technique known as tonal painting, Ishii begins by applying an undercoat of paint. Light areas receive little paint, while darker areas receive more. It is during this process that she perfects the anatomy of her subjects. She then applies other colours to the base coat, adding depth to the painting.
Ishii works with oil because she likes its luscious organic texture. She says, “I sometimes get an impulse to eat it, become part of it. It’s so buttery.” The medium affords her greater flexibility than acrylics because of its longer drying time. She is able to use her fingers to “muck up” the paint after it is applied.
Although Ishii prefers a less realistic style, it is the beautiful range of colour in flesh tones that draws her to paint. She works almost exclusively from photographs, as she finds the generic poses of models uninspiring. Ishii is less concerned with analytical accuracy and more intent on capturing her subjects’ emotions. Spirit emanates from the very core of her subjects.
In 1998 Ishii’s career reached a turning point. She held an exhibit at Melriches, a local Vancouver coffeehouse. Unique and fresh, her art received instant attention. Melriches’ Karen Macneil says, “Eri’s work is painterly and approachable—it is very popular with the public.” Ishii’s popularity prompted a second show later that year.
Inga Pullman, a well-respected Vancouver art dealer, also recognizes Ishii’s talent. She was struck by Ishii’s work while passing an outdoor exhibit at the Vancouver Art Gallery in 1998. “I saw her painting and was drawn right to it. I was extremely impressed,” she says. Pullman has sold over a dozen of Ishii’s works this year alone.
Pullman feels Ishii has the determination and talent to succeed: “She doesn’t paint to make money, but because there is nothing she would rather do.” Ishii’s attitude is the key to her success. Pullman says, “She doesn’t copy a painting of hers that has sold well as do many other artists.” She continues to experiment, pushing herself and her style to new limits.
The praise and recognition Ishii has received over the past three years is unusual for an artist so young. Ishii is self-critical and finds the interest in her work hard to believe. Yet, there is little doubt that Ishii’s exceptional abilities will ensure her both creative longevity and success.