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Orange County's 'Godfather of Chicano Art' dead at 75

Orange County's 'Godfather of Chicano Art' dies at 75
Renowned O.C. Chicano artist Emigdio Vasquez, who created 400 paintings and 22 murals, died at 75

Emigdio Vasquez, a renowned Orange County Chicano muralist and painter whose pieces captured the reality and grittiness of everyday life, has died at age 75.

He succumbed to pneumonia early Saturday in an assisted living home in Newport Beach, his daughter Rosemary Vasquez-Tuthill told The Times.

Vasquez, known as Orange County's Godfather of Chicano Art, created more than 400 paintings and 22 murals throughout the county. The “Legacy of Cesar Chavez” at Santa Ana College is one of his most well-known murals.

“My dad liked the gritty subjects, old people’s skins and the grittiness of the city,” Vasquez-Tuthill said.

In an artist statement posted on UC Santa Barbara’s library website, Vasquez wrote that he considered his art to be part of the working-class experience that surrounded his life.

“This environment holds inspiring visions of human warmth and cultural heritage,” Vasquez wrote. “I want to convey to the viewer the intense reality which people experience. Art must be more than aesthetic or decoration. Art creates an environment which enlarges humanity.”

Vasquez was born in 1939 in the mining town of Jerome, Ariz. The family moved to Orange in the early 1940s when the mine closed, Vasquez-Tuthill said. As a child, Vasquez would sit and quietly draw, a characteristic he carried into adulthood.

“He was a very quiet observer,” Vasquez-Tuthill said. “Unless he was around his friends.”

He earned an associate’s degree from Santa Ana College before transferring to Cal State Fullerton, where he received his bachelor of arts degree and a master's degree in fine arts.

For his master’s thesis, Vasquez painted an 85-by-64-foot mural as a tribute to the Chicano working-class. A miner was modeled after his father, and other relatives and friends were the inspiration for laborers.

“He put Chicano art onto a whole new level,” said Abe Moya, an O.C. artist and one of Vasquez’s friends. “He opened the door for people like myself and other Chicano artists.”

Vasquez’s work has been put on display throughout the country and as far as Rome. His work was also in the 1975 Chicanarte exhibit in the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery and in UCLA’s Chicano Art: Resistance and Affirmation in 1990. 

A few years ago, Vasquez was thinking of restoring some of the murals in Orange County that have deteriorated, Moya said. But his plans were crushed when Alzheimer’s disease set in.

Moya hopes the murals will be restored now.

“They capture the historic value of the community and the area he grew up in,” Moya said. “He was a legend when he was alive and he’ll always be a legend.”

A complete obituary will follow at www.latimes.com.

For Orange County news, follow @AdolfoFlores3.

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
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