Benji Okubo (‘29, Fine Arts)

Benji Okubo

Born in Riverside, CA in 1904, Benji Okubo (‘29, Fine Arts) is a renowned Japanese American painter. He was active in Los Angeles from the 1920's  through the 1940's. As an American-born child of immigrants, Okubo expressed himself through art and enterprise.

In 1935, the epicenter of this activity was the Dragon's Den, a Chinatown restaurant for which owner Eddy See commmissioned a remarkable mural painted by Okubo, Tyrus Wong ('32), and Marian Blanchard depicting the Eight Immortals and a dancing dragon. Celebrities including Walt Disney and the Marx Brothers came to see the murals, and See opened a small gallery to sell his friends’ work. During the 1930's, the WPA brought students together with nationally-known artists such as Stanton McDonald-Wright.

During World War II, Okubo continued painting despite his internment at Heart Mountain, Wyoming. During his most active period, Okubo exhibited at the Mission Inn (Riverside), 1933; See Gallery (LA), 1933; “Southern California Artists” at the San Diego FA Gallery, 1934; “Painters & Sculptors of LA,” 1935; “Oriental Artists of LA,” 1936; and Foundation of Western Art, 1937.

Today, the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles, through an NEA grant, supports the conservation of Okubo's paintings.


Benji Okubo