Photo caption: “Welcome to the Neighborhood” by Robert Dozono, now on view.
When Robert Dozono was born in Japan in 1941, his parents, who were Nisei American citizens, found they were too late in registering his birth with the American Embassy, which had been evacuated shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He later became a U.S. citizen as an immigrant. When his family returned to the U.S. after the war, settling in Portland, Ore., a lasting impression for Dozono had been the amount of trash generated in American culture. Throughout his childhood in Japan practically everything was kept and reused in some way.
Painting, teaching art, cultivating friendships and fishing became prominent activities in Dozono’s life. At favorite fishing spots he and his friends would encounter trash that they would pick up and carry out. Dozono’s trash service comes once a year. His trash is composed of anything that cannot be composted or recycled. Much of it has been recycled into his paintings since 1991.
When first viewing the large paintings in Robert Dozono’s “Clackamas River Series” exhibit, one is immediately swept into textural impressions of a wooded riverscape — the Clackamas swirls and tumbles over stones, lazily making its way toward the viewer. Positioned in its midst, viewers watch the river recede into a distant horizon, banked by bowed trees that admit sky and rivulets of sunlight. This scene is repeated in various renditions with Dozono’s unrecyclable trash as an intervening layer that conspires to be integral to the view. Each variation is an exploration of composition, light, shadow, volume and color, as he works the forms and colors of the garbage pieces into the requirements of the overall image. Every object brings its own problems to solve.
At a distance the garbage paintings look like impressions of the Upper Clackamas, vibrant with the colors of a woodland riverscape and teeming with irregular textural bumps. Light reveals the three-dimensionality of the trash although they are painted into the scene. As one closes in on the painting — from toothbrushes, plastic bottle caps and lids, to containers, toothpaste tubes, and prescription vials, sponges, bottle pumps and wrappers — items we discard without a second thought — come into focus. A rock in the middle of the river gets its dimensional volume from a couple of old scrub sponges.
“Children get excited by being able to recognize the trash,” says Dozono.
The sheer number of objects in the paintings makes an indisputable statement about our consumerist culture. A few of the paintings’ titles are taken from a random package label or two, such as “Good Earth Original — Kiss My Face” (that Dozono must be mindful of not totally covering with paint in case he forgets), adding another layer of irony to the work.
The trash in Dozono’s paintings exhibits a kind of dark beauty of its own in their arrangement on his canvasses. There is a dynamic interplay between the embedded objects with the expression of the natural beauty of the Clackamas scenes — playful yet disturbing, subtle yet overwhelming.
Relief comes in “Upper Clackamas #16,” a sans garbage painting where the view is rendered in charcoal and watercolor with a lively and light gestural hand of swift brushstrokes in browns, greens, blues accented with golden yellows, that capture the natural beauty of the Clackamas River environment. The saturated colors of an oil painting in the same series lend summer’s lushness to a similar scene. The water looks cool and inviting.
The series echoes Dozono’s penchant for thorough study of a subject to draw his own conclusions. He retired some years ago from his teaching position at Portland Community College where he garnered many loyal students, some of whom returned to continue to study with him and some who are now working artists. His teaching style and philosophy, derived from his own experience of deliberate investigation, includes making mistakes and repeated practice.
“How will you know where to draw the correct line if you don’t have the mistake to work from?” he asks.
Drawing sessions included a subject that would change position every two to five minutes, and students had to draw without looking directly at their work, so that they would focus on observation. No erasing was allowed. As a teacher, his objective was to get students to become fearless about drawing, which encouraged them to continue to explore and eventually to discover their own directions. This process illuminates the simple respect Dozono shows for everyone he encounters, as well as for the natural world.
A first edition book compilation of Dozono’s works (available at the gallery), entitled “Robert R. Dozono – Accumulation | Work 1963-2009,” thoughtfully designed by graphic designer, Adam McIsaac, reveals Dozono’s engaging combination of humility and forthrightness that make him such an interesting personality as a teacher and artist.
Robert Dozono’s “Clackamas River Series” is viewable at Francine Seders Gallery from March 8 to March 31, 2013. Learn more at www.sedersgallery.com.