By Liz Monroy
[dropcap]H[/dropcap]all of Fame alumnus and celebrated muralist Emigdio Vasquez, whose work adorns the lobby of the Cesar Chavez Building, died Aug. 9 in an assisted living home in Newport Beach of pneumonia, his family announced.
Mr. Vasquez, who had been suffering from dementia brought on by complications from Alzheimer’s disease, was 75.
“There is a message in every one of those murals and that really influenced me to be more proud of my heritage,” SAC Art Gallery Coordinator Carol McCabe said.
She met Mr. Vasquez in 1997, when the Godfather of Chicano Art in Orange County was completing the Legacy of Cesar Chavez at Santa Ana College.
“I have depicted Cesar Chavez surrounded by some of his compatriots in the farm workers’ movement, like Dolores Huerta, Luis Valdez and Fred Ross. Just as important, however, I decided to include anonymous images of people from the working class, the people loved by Cesar Chavez,” Mr. Vasquez said in his artist’s description of perhaps his most renowned work.
Mr. Vasquez was born in Jerome, a mining town in Arizona, in 1939.
His family moved to Orange County in the 1940s, when jobs dried up after a mine closure.
He completed his Associate of Arts degree in Santa Ana College after graduating from
Orange High School. Mr. Vasquez transferred to California State University Fullerton, to complete his bachelor’s and master’s degrees.
Drawing from the influence of Mexico’s muralista art movement pioneered by Diego Rivera, Jose Orozco and David Alfaro Siqueiros, Mr. Vasquez’s intense brush strokes, detailed recreations of faces both famous and lesser known with emphasis on the anonymous working class, captured the country’s evolution through the lens of the California experience.
His social realist style and documentation of barrio life exposed the cultural and racial divide when the District Attorney’s office associated Tribute to Chicano Working Class with gang identity when it sought injunctions against a local group.
The misinterpretation upset Mr. Vasquez, who has more than 20 murals in buildings across the county, including Disneyland, Cal State Fullerton and Orange Country Transit Authority.
“Life holds harsh realities. Many of these appear on my canvasses. Translating elements of beauty and struggle is important to me,” Vasquez said in an artist statement for the California Ethnic and Multicultural Archives at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
1997: Returns to his alma mater to paint “The Legacy of Cesar Chavez,” one his best-known works.
2004: Inducted into the Santa Ana College Hall of Fame.
2013: By mayoral proclamation, May 25 is Emigdio Vasquez Day in Santa Ana.