Of Murakami's pantheon of recurring characters and motifs, Mr. DOB is the artist's earliest and perhaps most iconic. The character was born from a late-night word game in 1993; as Murakami relays: "For one or two hours we said 'dobozite, dobozite' [a phrase from Noboru Kawasaki's 1970 manga Inakappe taisho, in which characters continually mispronounce doshite (why) as dobozite dobozite]. A female friend said 'oshamanbe,' which was a popular gag, maybe a sexual reference. I wanted to create a dobozite, dobozite oshamanbe show." (T. Murakami, in Paul Schimmel "Making Murakami," Murakami (Los Angeles: Museum of Contemporary Art, 2007), p. 65.)
To this effect, Murakami sought to produce a logo for his production but found the phrase graphically too cumbersome. Instead, he invented a character to function as his personal logo: a composite of Doraemon (a futuristic feline robot from Japanese anime) and Sonic the Hedgehog (Sega's mascot and video game protagonist), to which he added enlarged Mickey Mouse-like ears. Both in concept and in its visual iteration, Mr. DOB merges word and image; his visage literally spells out his name-"D" appears on the left ear, "B" on the right, and his round face forms an "O."
In the present work, DOB's head fills the entire canvas, peeking up from the foreground to meet our gaze. His smile is playfully impish, his eyes, promising. Overall, the canvas is highly worked evidencing layers of paint application and removal, even the background, which at first appears simply monochrome reveals a textural field of pochoir dots.
Since his debut Mr. DOB has appeared in different incarnations--as sculptures, paintings, balloons, in films, on clothing--and has expressed the different facets of his personality--happy, cute, coy, menacing, violent, dark. Mr. DOB first came to the United States in 1995 as an inflatable sculpture at the Angel Orensanz Foundation in New York. Over the years Mr. DOB has become a surrogate for the artist, a metaphorical self-portrait. Further, Mr. DOB functions as currency in Murakami's symbolic economy. As Mika Yoshitake argues in the catalogue for the major retrospective Murakami organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles in 2007: "Murakami's production of DOB comes from an engagement with how an icon emerges as an object of mass consumption and circulates as a distinctive registered trademark to be used, reused, bought, and sold." (M. Yoshitake, "The Meaning of the Nonsense of Excess," Ibid. p. 125.) Testifying to the weight Murakami accords the figure is the fact that Mr. DOB is the single most represented subject in the artist's oeuvre.