Dumpsters are an important component of Kaz Oshiro's aesthetic. The large, metal rubbish bins are one of a number of everyday objects - including refrigerators and microwave ovens - that are mediums of inspiration for the artist, who was born in Okinawa, Japan, but now lives in Los Angeles.
Oshiro is known for using mundane objects in his artistic practice: he creates a base in the shape and size of the item in question, covers it with stretch canvas, uses a multiplicity of techniques - and, voila, art.
When the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (Lacma) invited Oshiro to display some of his works in one of its new satellite locations, and to simultaneously enrol young, local students to help out, it was an opportunity that he just couldn't turn down.
"Lacma asked me a year ago to do a project here," the artist says. "I work solo. I needed two weeks to think about it, and to come up with a theme."
The result is "Chasing Ghosts", the latest in the museum's ongoing interaction with the Los Angeles community. Oshiro, who has pieces in the main Lacma location, brought forth his sculptures for a small capsule collection, comprising a couple of dumpsters, a bicycle, an umbrella and a large painted wall. The works are on display until June in a modern gallery space adjacent to the Charles White Elementary School in Los Angeles, a stone's throw from Koreatown.
Oshiro settled upon the premise of abstract expressionism, which he defines as one of the most important movements in art history, and a way to show that "while expressionism looks pretty simple, the process and ideas behind it are really deep".
Some 200 youngsters, their ages ranging from eight to 11, were recruited and separated into 20 groups; each group was given an assignment that contributed to the whole work. Oshiro met with them at a series of assemblies, and talked about "how unconventional tools and processes" could be used to create art. Among the techniques he demonstrated: how to blow paint through a tube, and sweep a broom across trays of pigment to create a delicate, feathery effect.
Oshiro even showed the children how to paint by slingshot, and how a stationary bicycle could be made to splatter paint from its back tyre. Because of the variety of techniques and mediums employed, the artist wanted to keep the basis simple and functional, hence the reliance on things such as dumpsters and umbrellas. In his regular exhibitions outside of "Chasing Ghosts", he has used the shapes of filing cabinets and stereo speakers.
"My job was not just to teach kids, but to give them a chance to see what kind of art they could make," he says.
Using a faux dumpster as a canvas, Oshiro was able to show the students the correlation between emotions, brush strokes and colour. "For me, expressionism is being able to say, 'I can paint how I want to, without hesitation'," the artist says. The mundane, everyday objects are his vision of "still life", conveying as they do a gritty, modern sensibility.
"It goes back to the days of cave painting," says Oshiro, who has shown widely in the US and Europe. "This is the still life of today. There is no political message … It was simply what we set as the theme, the idea of conveying, 'What can we use to make a painting?'"
There are two dumpsters on display: one is a mottled green smeared with blue and pink paint, another a bright amber with splashes of watercolour. A bicycle, mounted on a bike stand, was used to paint a large wall: Oshiro dabbed paint on the back wheel, and as a student pedalled, the colour splashed onto the canvas behind. An umbrella used to shelter the child is also part of the exhibition. The young artists then used a squeegee to fill out the rest of the canvas.
"It was all about teamwork," Oshiro says. "Each student had a job to do."