Pioneering Chicano Artist Emigdio Vasquez Dies
NEWPORT BEACH (AP) — Emigdio Vasquez, whose bold use of color, exacting brush skills and uncanny ability to capture everyday people in dramatic moments made him one of the most influential pioneers of the Chicano art movement, has died. He was 75.
The artist, who had been in declining health, died Saturday in an assisted living home in Newport Beach, his family said Wednesday. The cause was pneumonia.
Incredibly prodigious, Vasquez created more than 400 paintings and nearly two dozen murals. Many of the latter dot buildings throughout Orange County, where he lived most of his life.
Arguably his most famous work, “Legacy of Cesar Chavez,” graces the lobby of the computer center at Santa Ana College, where Vasquez once studied art and later taught the subject. It shows the labor leader surrounded by everyday people at a United Farm Workers event.
“I consider my art to be a part of the experience of the working class,” Vasquez once said. “The daily lives of people in the barrio are documented in my work.”
Indeed, that was reflected in such works as “Onion Peddler,” ”El Wino” and “Downtown Intellectual,” as well as still others of Zoot-suited Chicano youth and of children playing in the modest yards of their homes.
Artistically, Vasquez drew inspiration from his two major influences, Mexican artist Diego Rivera and the great Dutch painter Rembrandt, said his daughter Rosemary Vazquez-Tuthill. To that he added his own detailed brush work that gave his subjects what Vasquez-Tuthill, a painter herself, called a stunning look sometimes described as social realism.
It was not a style that came to Vasquez naturally, said his son Adolph.
“I remember as a small child that he would be working on somebody’s face for hours on end,” he told The Associated Press on Wednesday. He added that although his father painted from the heart, it took years of intense practice to develop the style he became famous for.
Born in Jerome, Arizona, in 1939, Vasquez was the son of a copper miner who moved his family to Southern California when the end of World War II eased the demand for the mineral.
He recalled getting serious about art as early as kindergarten then going on to create comic books based on the tales of the Mexican revolution that his father would tell him.
He earned a master’s degree in art from California State University, Fullerton, where his thesis project was creating an 85-by-65 foot mural depicting the Chicano working class. Its figures were modeled on his father and other laborers and field hands he knew personally.
During the next 30 years, he would do murals for Disneyland, Anaheim City Hall, the Orange County Transportation Center and numerous other buildings.
His paintings, meanwhile, were exhibited across the United States, in Mexico and Rome. In 2011, Fullerton, which had honored him as one of the 50 most influential Hispanic graduates during its first 50 years, mounted a major retrospective of his work.
In addition to his daughter and son, Vasquez is survived by four other children, Dora, “Emigdio” (Higgy), Sarah and Vera Vasquez. Others include brothers Gilberto, Vidal, Javier and Santiago, and a sister, Licinia.
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