Essay by Kristina Newhouse
Curator of Exhibitions, University Art Museum CSULB
Devon Tsuno’s densely layered abstractions are inspired by daily encounters with the city and neighboring communities, as well as journeys within ecological corridors like the Los Angeles River. For Tsuno, LA is a vital place, but aggressively so. He observes that as immigrants move into neighborhoods, they bring plants from home. When one community leaves or there is an influx of new residents, vestiges of the earlier greenery are left behind, to be reused and re-envisioned by newcomers, who add their own plants to the mix. Tsuno marvels at the “insurgent” plenitude of vegetation brought here from across the globe. The vigorous and dynamic flora in the urban environment constitutes nature for him.
Since 1995, Tsuno has carried with him a camera practically everywhere he goes, documenting the “massively layered” urban sprawl and non-native foliage he discovers, often later uploading his pictures of people and urban spaces to Flickr or Facebook. Taken as whole, his photographs present an undifferentiated stream of observation and experience at the city’s core.
Tsuno translates the vibrant imagery of the photos onto Washi paper, which was the preferred material for traditional Ukiyo-e woodblock prints in which Japanese artists explored themes of natural beauty and transient aspects of daily life in an urban environment. In the 19th century, Ukiyo-e prints became popular in Europe and greatly influenced many avant-garde painters, who were struck by their bold color and distinctive compositions. As a fourth generation descendant of Japanese immigrants, Tsuno’s choice of Washi as a ground for his compositions can be seen as recognition of the heterogeneous cultural and aesthetic influences of East and West upon him.
It is apparent that the visual vocabulary of graffiti also partially informs Tsuno’s practice. While he never participated in tagging, he has had many points of connection to the community of graffiti artists. Between his stacking of landscape imagery, the controlled spatter of spray paint, and the way in which layers of earlier imagery are read through the almost chunky surface, Tsuno’s paintings have a sedimentary feel not unlike that found on a prime wall after successions of taggers have “buffed” the tags of others by covering them with their own.