Project: Accumulation, for Robert Dozono

Robert Dozono

A monograph illustrating the 45-year career of a respected painter and teacher

Robert Dozono has spent his career trying to avoid becoming famous. Since the early 1970s, he has lived in Portland, Oregon: teaching, making work, exhibiting only at a co-operative gallery, and developing a community of hundreds of students and disciples drawn to his patient, workmanlike approach to picture-making (it is not unusual for him to work years on the same subject, recording differences in light, atmospheric quality, and his own evolving eye).

Mr. Dozono is a collector and recycler. He has not taken regular garbage service for almost twenty years; whatever he could not compost, he kept and worked into his paintings. Upon a ground of empty toothpaste tubes, plastic caps and other packaging detritus, he works landscapes that are impressionistic – owing to the variety of their surface – and precise: as in the work of the English portraitist Frank Auerbach, the paintings resolve themselves startlingly at a few paces’ remove.

Accumulation is an effort to do something similar: to collect his life’s work, and also to step back and reveal the patterns of inquiry contained therein: in images, in brief reflections from his colleagues and students, and in his own observations on seeing, drawing, color and the daily practice of painting.


Slipcase and cover

The book is an optical square, a couple of millimeters wider than it is tall: a formal reference to Mr. Dozono’s Japanese heritage and a convenience, as he is largely a landscape painter and his work tends toward the horizontal. The scale is somewhat on the small side for a monograph, but we were looking for a balance between proper sizing for the work within and the intimacy of the content itself. The book fits snugly in the hand; it stays open but is not so heavy that it needs to be read from a table; image and commentary can both be taken in from a comfortable distance.



Endsheets and half-title

The book opens with endsheets showing Mr. Dozono’s rather organic method for organizing his studio; instead of a traditional half-title, we selected a self-portrait he drew on a shopping bag for a teaching assignment. Lift the flap, and …



Full title

…on the full title, his hat comes off: a good example of the artist’s dry and self-deprecatory sense of humor. Here, the display type from the cover has been enlarged, overprinted and run across the gutter as a riff on the book’s title and the artist’s habits, but there is also a strong sense of order and arrangement, which is also part of his method, despite the chaotic outward appearance.



Custodial pages

The wingback chair shows up in drawings to be found later in the book. Note books and papers stacked around the chair (similar – or possibly the same – stacks occur in these drawings, many of which are ten or more years old).

These pages also set up two motifs used throughout the book. First, content would engage the spine: we would not be precious about containing it on one page or another. We bound the book in eight-page signatures so that we could use the crossover without worrying too much about registration issues.

Second: documentary images would be presented as black-and-white photographs, to set them apart from the work, which is in full color.




Periodically, the text is punctuated by brief cæsura containing Mr. Dozono’s meditations on living and painting.



Section divider

Major section dividers show historical or documentary photographs of Mr. Dozono at work.



Part and whole

Even in a larger book, it would be easy to lose the sense of surface involved in the paintings. We used details at 1:1 scale to give a sense of what you might see standing close to a painting, then followed by the overall view. This is certainly not a new practice in books like this, but we used a lot of them, and organized the book so that part and whole would always be shown side-by-side.




The book has no central interpretive essay. In addition to about a dozen meditations (see above) , Mr. Dozono prepared three essays (on drawing, color, and being a student); the rest of the text is made up by statements he had written for previous exhibitions and brief “reflections,” as he termed them, from his colleagues and students.

That’s a lot of different parts. We developed a system of muted flat colors to hold them together: warm gray for institutional and archival information (table of contents, section breaks, statements); green for Mr. Dozono’s philosophical voice; and blue for the voices of others. Simple, but it allowed us to integrate these separate parts gently into the flow of the book. Because the colors are of middle value, a reader encounters them the same way she might a full-page detail image: as an expansion of a point, not a break in the narrative.



Essay opening

Sewing in 8-page signatures allowed us to engage the saddle of the book more aggressively than we might have otherwise. Smaller signatures give the binding flexibility and make the book easier to open flat. Color fidelity from one side of the page can still be a concern, but modern printing techniques have mitigated this somewhat.

Our goal is continuity and flow, not suspending the artwork in vitrine: each illustration should lead to the next. We were, however, careful where the crossover fell. In wider multi-panel works (see Common scale below) we would arrange the page so that the work engaged the saddle at one of its physical divisions, enhancing the work’s architectural qualities.



Essay detail

Subsequent pages from the essay. Many – if not most – of the drawings shown in this section originated as class demonstrations, done on large rolls of paper (Mr. Dozono believes that working as large as possible removes some of the fear from the process, freeing his students to fail bigger and faster; he holds that after making 10,000 drawings, you should be able to draw fairly well). In demonstration, he will often use scraps and ends of rolls; again, as an example against preciousness in process. He also likes to use the whole page. We respected this by maintaining the organic edges of his drawings and watercolors throughout the book, save where he had indicated a crop.



Common scale

With very few exceptions, we presented all of the work relative to a common scale: each piece is sized to how it would appear next all of the other works in the real world. This was made somewhat easier in that Mr. Dozono follows rough standards for the sizes at which he works: drawings and watercolors are usually executed at about the same scale; paintings are derived from proportions convenient to commercially-available canvas.

We conducted an audit of all of the available work at the start of development and derived the book’s scale, proportion and grid from the results. Reproductions were fixed to the upper left corner of grid co-ordinates and allowed to create whitespace according to their own proportions. Since we used an asymmetrical layout, this did not pose a problem: to the contrary, the resulting whitespace organized itself organically among pieces that had been placed with precision according to the rhythm of the book as a whole.



Small multiples

Opening of Mr. Dozono’s essay on color, showing selections from a long watercolor meditation on the life and decay of an arrangement of onions and potatoes.

As previously noted, the paintings are shown in relative scale, with the exception of the large image at right, which is enlarged for detail. Accumulation uses two organizing grids, each derived from a common module and overlaid on one another: one for text, one for image. The text grid is composed of five columns, wherein running text occupies two divisions of two columns each, leaving the fifth column fallow. This fallow column can then move around the page as needed to control organization and pacing. The image grid is finer, and allows for greater variation in proportion.



Scale and sequence

Fragment of a sequence of paintings Mr. Dozono executed of a hose behind his house, showing the common-scale presentation applied to larger works.

A monograph – or any book that exists to present pictures – is like an exhibition. An exhibit designer uses sequence and pacing when arranging a show; the book designer should use similar tools. Here, we’ve given the work plenty of whitespace, but the works are distributed asymmetrically, and the space is modulated by decision rather than happenstance. Content is arranged using three hanging points: one for text, one for images, one for notes and captions. The result implies motion from left to right, as you might peruse an exhibit; and also serves the book’s story, which is about the progress of an artist over 45 years.

We asked Mr. Dozono to prepare short writings to provide context for certain works and series to compensate for not having a central interpretive essay. These lived in the caption area.



Large series

Fragment of a series of paintings Mr. Dozono executed in the early 1970s in an effort to teach himself watercolor. These periods of exetnded study are characteristic of his process, and Accumulation covers seven or eight of them: in this case, he made over a hundred paintings between 1973 and 1975, from which we selected 28.



Appendix: transition

In 1991, Mr. Dozono took a sabbatical from teaching. He felt that he had to have something to do in that year besides paint, so he approached eight of his colleagues with the same question – How do you know when a work is finished? – and documented the conversations, all of which began with that question and quickly veered into the brambly areas so loved by artists: process, spirituality, how to teach, how to learn, and so on.

At the end of his sabbatical, he published the results in a small edition titled Exploring the Unexplainable: Visual Rightness. The book quickly sold out. We wanted to include it as an appendix to Accumulation, as it is an excellent example of the social component of Mr. Dozono’s work. In spite of his meditative nature, he is not a monk. He loves conversation, and his abiding interest in what everybody else is doing (it’s impossible to go to a gallery opening in Portland without running into him) has made him into a kind of touchstone for three generations of northwest artists.



Appendix: text

There is little illustration in Exploring the Unexplainable. We added a grid module to each of the text columns to get a slightly longer measure (easier to read over long stretches) and used the balance to accommodate footnotes. Questions were printed in black, and answers in the dark gray we used for text throughout the book.




The book’s final cæsura, containing valedictory remarks from the artist, presented opposite a 1950s photograph of his uncle Mitsuo, a farmer, leading his horse across a stream next to Mr. Dozono’s childhood home. These pages are meant as a cool-down period, bringing the reader full circle to the artist’s origins: he is a naturalized American, yet he remains Japanese. These two conditions do not present a dichotomy for Mr. Dozono, as this book is meant to illustrate. The artist’s progress is not transformative; rather, the transformation is additive: a matter of accumulation.