Born in Riverside, CA in 1904, Benji Okubo (‘29, Fine Arts) became renowned as a noted painter of Japanese ancestry. He was active in L.A. from the ‘20s through the ‘40s. As one of many American-born children 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, that depicted the Eight Immortals and a dancing dragon. Celebrities like Walt Disney and the Marx Brothers came to see the murals, and See opened a small gallery to sell his friends’ work.
During the ‘30s, the WPA brought students together with nationally-known artists such as Stanton McDonald-Wright.
During WWII, Okubo continued painting despite his internment at Heart Mountain, Wyoming. In his most active period, Okubo exhibited at 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 L.A., through an NEA grant, supports the conservation of Okubo's paintings.