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Motoko Ishibashi, “BBB_4” (2022)
Motoko Ishibashi, “BBB_4” (2022), Wicked City (2023), Acrylic on canvas 60"H x 60”WCourtesy of the artist and Sebastian Gladstone

These hypersexualised portraits reflect the ‘chaotic contents’ of culture

Taking its name from a cult 1980s anime film, Motoko Ishibashi’s exhibition Wicked City holds up a funhouse mirror to fantastical depictions of women’s bodies in modern life

“I saw Wicked City when I was a teenager,” recalls Motoko Ishibashi, reflecting on the 1987 sci-fi film by Yoshiaki Kawajiri. “It was already an old anime to me and the animation had the retro impression of its time, but the movements of the characters and some of the sexual, violent scenes were sensual and became stuck in my head.”

The Japanese-born, London-based artist’s latest exhibition – named after Kawajiri’s darkly erotic fantasy – develops Ishibashi’s vivid ongoing exploration of stylised female bodies. Her paintings toy with concepts of representation, both invoking and critiquing tropes of objectification.

“The images I used, and the way I cropped and zoomed them, reminded me of the intensity of the film and also the erotic characters roaming between the underworld and the human world,” she continues.“I liked the way sex is used as a decoy in the film, it resonated with my work.”

Ishibashi’s artworks featured in Wicked City  (currently showing at Sebastian Gladstone’s Hollywood gallery) are also richly redolent with suggestions of pop culture influences. While the compositions might recall the square crop of an Instagram feed, the hypersexualised, irreverent depictions of women’s bodies seem impregnated with references to advertising, soft porn, music videos, and the web. The artist tells Dazed: “Growing up in Japan, you are surrounded by abundant billboards of colourful animated characters with comical advert music sounds and voices everywhere in public.”

Her distinct style was formed amid this amalgam of disparate influences, as Ishibashi grew up absorbing the elements of the pop culture terrain which surrounded her. “When I was a kid, many places, like peoples’ houses, cafes and so on, always had many comic books, videos and games in their shelves and I enjoyed reading and watching different types… whether they were ‘for boys’, ‘for girls’ or for older kids, from black and white films to 90s cinema. I learned a lot from these chaotic contents… comedy, fantastical violence and eroticism co-existing together.”

Wicked City synthesises these “chaotic contents”, referencing references of references, until what emerges is Ishibashi’s vivid and unmistakable vision – a funhouse mirror held up to the digital world. “My work reflects directly from groups of fan art cultures, images that seem ‘explicit’ but can be found easily on search engines. The images I’m interested in are copies of copies which I then copy again. The image evolves and change every time they are reproduced by someone else.”

The exhibition also features a series of ceramics, created under the name Willowfuck in collaboration with artist Robin von Einsiedel. This series echoes themes of Ishibashi’s canvases, with pots such as “Sandy Bum” formed in the shape of buttocks decorated as to be fresh from the beach. 

“Willowfuck is focused on making sculptural works. I wanted to experiment with virtual images to 3D materialities which are more tangible than painting can be,” explains Ishibashi. “The name Willowfuck came from a sex spam email account name. II liked the idea of the anonymity you get making multiple accounts on social media to make you feel you have more freedom regardless”.

For a closer look, visit the gallery above. 

Wicked City  by Motoko Ishibashi is showing at Sebastian Gladstone until February 11 2023

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