Sergio O'Cadiz: El Artist

The Mexican maestro was a popular painter in Orange County for decades. Now, his family is fighting to keep his legacy alive

Sergio O'Cadiz: El Artist

Just across the street from Mile Square Park in Fountain Valley, in the middle of the city's suburban placidity, exists what's probably the most anomalous collection of street names in Orange County. They're in Spanish, but not in the florid fantasy-heritage jargon endemic to South County and new condo communities everywhere. Instead, these roads (Circulo de Zapata, Avenida Cinco de Mayo, Calle de Juarez, Calle de Madero, Avenida Independencia) are a bold celebration of Mexican revolutionaries—name streets such as these anywhere else in the county today, and cries of sedition would surely bloom and become the clarion call for racist lunatics everywhere.

This is Colonia Juarez, the city's historic barrio. Created in the 1920s to house Mexican agricultural workers in a segregated setting, it's unique in the city's collection of tract homes for its deep, narrow lots and long history. But it's a neighborhood whose history is always under siege, a battle it's always losing. While some properties still feature beautiful gardens filled with cornstalks and towering cacti, with houses built in the low-slung, stucco-happy, ranch style common in Southern California's Mexican neighborhoods, those are now the exceptions.Two-story mini-McMansions now dominate Colonia Juarez, most of them occupied by new residents who have slowly pushed out the long-timers. Vacant lots await transformation into new housing for the next wave of people with no ties to the neighborhood, who'll look at the street names and cringe.

Along Calle Zaragoza—named after the Mexican general who led a ragtag army to triumph against larger French forces in the battle of Puebla—stands an 8-foot-tall wall that's about 600 feet long. It's your classic Orange County barrier: built of concrete block artificially tanned and weathered so it looks like adobe, on an island with no sidewalk to discourage pedestrians, anchored by ugly bushes with the occasional tree every 50 feet or so in a desperate attempt at beautification. The wall separates Colonia Juarez from a massive apartment complex on the other side, a bitter reminder to longtime residents of how Fountain Valley has sought to isolate them from the rest of the city at any means possible.

But this wall is doubly painful to the family of Sergio O'Cadiz, an artist who passed away in 2002. Shortly before his death, Fountain Valley officials tore down the 6-foot-high wall that had previously stood there, a wall that was once the pride and joy of the neighborhood and a masterpiece of Chicano art. In 1975, Colonia Juarez residents asked O'Cadiz—a celebrated artist whose work had been the rage in art galleries, private households and public spaces across Orange County since the 1960s—to help them paint a mural on that wall that would tell the barrio's history, that could enliven what everyone considered an eyesore. Over the course of six years, O'Cadiz and Colonia Juarez residents painted a stunning panorama, one that drew immediate praise and controversy for its unflinching look at the neighborhood's past, present and future.

Fountain Valley officials never liked it, though, so they let the wall decay, never allowing O'Cadiz to restore it, watching it rot until they said it wasn't worth saving and the neighborhood's demographics had changed enough so they could knock the mural down with little controversy. By then, the Colonia Juarez mural had become a metaphor for O'Cadiz himself—once loved, then forgotten, then slowly allowed to fade into our historical amnesia.

But instead of letting that final indignation stand, the family of O'Cadiz is starting to fight back. After a decade of mourning, his family is emerging to return its patriarch to his rightful spot in Orange County art history as one of its most visible, prolific members. But it's a race against time: his public art decays with each passing day, his private work languishes in storage, and the memories of those who remember the young Mexican who took Orange County by storm years ago fade like a mural in the sun.

* * *

Maria del Pilar O'Cadiz is looking at a beautiful nude woman looming over her bed at her mother's Santa Ana home.

"This is one of my favorite paintings done by my dad," she says. "Look at the softness of her figure, those long, luxurious lines. It's Reuben-esque."

As Pilar, a researcher with UC Irvine's School of Education, walks down the hallway to check on her elderly mother, she points out more of her father's paintings: a conquistador; a nautical scene; a Cubist-style rendering of a nude woman; Mujer Montaña, a massive portrait of a woman reclining on a mountain range, her epic peaks and valley precisely detailed. "That was a former lover of his," she says with a laugh. "He drew this after she spurned him."

In the living room is more of O'Cadiz's art: paintings of fruit, small statues, sketches, triptychs, self-portraits. And in another room is yet more—some in drawers, some standing, some hanging, just some of the more than 1,000 works Pilar estimates her father painted over a 50-year career, in addition to the dozens of public artworks that still exist—and those that were destroyed.

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27 comments
YEYO
YEYO

THE CITY OF FOUNTAIN VALLEY SHOULD BE ASHAMED FOR DESTROYING THE  MURAL OF LA COLONIA JUAREZ BY O'CADIZ. INSTEAD OF RESTORING IT, THEY REPLACED IT WITH A PLAIN BRICK WALL. THE MURAL MAY BE GONE, BUT THE IMPACT THAT IT HAS MADE TO ME WILL LIVE ON FOREVER. THANKS TO THAT MURAL, I'M WHAT I AM TODAY... AN INTERNATIONAL ARTIST! 

funkdoppler
funkdoppler

His energy help fuel and form the Santa Ana Artist Village long before the bars and restaurants capitalized on the good vibe.  

got2twinkle
got2twinkle

Given the abundance of creative contributions coming from the Latino community in OC I am often surprised that there is not an association or foundation that recognizes Citizen Artist who happen to be of Latin American and or Mexican decent.   As a Suzuki Violin teacher at OCCTAC in Santa Ana, I am always looking for examples of Citizen Artist (in the most inclusive sense) that I can encourage the young people coming up under my wings to aspire to.   In such an economy it is not easy for our urban families and  youth to find examples of how the arts play a role in the development of their lives, careers and the economic expression of their communities.   Sergio was an extraordinary example of one way the Arts and Technology make that essential dove tail.  

Many of our most creative young people struggle against the notion that the Arts are a luxury that you ice the surface of the education cake with as appose to a structure that holds the education cake together from the plate up..  As someone who works with Preschoolers I have personal experience with the reluctance to sink permanent roots for the Arts deep in the ground.   It is easy to understand that caution when someone like Sergio has the integrity of his works ripped apart.  But I can't help but notice in the faces of the next generation that there is more where that came from waiting in the wings.  Having a network that recognizes Local Citizen Artists in all of their diversity, encourages their impulses in the main streets of OC and explores their potential to make difference in the lives of future generations would do much to help transform the myths we have at street level about the arts being a frill.  

nickelplated0622
nickelplated0622

I had the extreme pleasure of meeting Maria and her family last night at their home. I had no Idea where my friend was taking me, only that I was to meet the woman I would be DJaying for at her upcoming birthday party, and that her father was an artist. As and artist and aspiring curator, I was floored and truly moved by all the works on the walls. I felt an amazing spirit and vibration coming from this family and their home. As soon as I went home, I read the article and felt even more humbled to have witnessed first hand, this masters work.

 

amazing write up, amazing story. Michael Ziobrowski

ocadizpilar
ocadizpilar

Gracias Gustavo for your wonderful write up of my father's work, life and struggle. Too, I appreciate the comments from those who appreciated his artistic contributions and the extraordinary human being he was to so many. La lucha continua...

got2twinkle
got2twinkle

Bravo Pilar.  My heart is with you.

got2twinkle
got2twinkle

Maestro O'Cadiz came to Orange County as a well educated professional member of the establishment.  He designed architecture for the Orange County Institutions who contracted with the Architectural Firm which brought him to O. C. and hired him for his technical expertise.  He put that Firm on the map with his Artistic insight and gave it international recognition in its day.  We need that kind of entrepreneurial creativity and imagination to get us out of the economic slump we are fighting to get out of in 2012.      He was also a father who concerned himself with what kind of world his daughters would be growing up in.   If Sergio has become controversial in the past, it is only because we are the ones who have provoked him with our ignorance of history.

tomstrelow
tomstrelow

It's great to see Pilar championing her father's work.  Certainly art evokes a personal aesthetic that while important to be owned by the viewer appears to be taken a bit self-righteously from some of the comments I see below.  And regardless of that aesthetic Sergio is a very important part of the rich but understated history of art in Orange County that gets overshadowed by the lines of cinderblock walls of central OC and the gated communities to the south that create a narrative of isolation and social conservativism.  Personally I do see Sergio in the artistic vein of one of the earliest artistic pioneers of OC, Madame Modjeska who steeped herself in the depths of her artistry bringing art to both the high brow city folks of Chicago and San Francisco and the low brow long forgotten mining town folks of the late 18th century.  It was an exploration of the meaning of art but also how it inspired our humanity.   Sergio was very much a part of that same narrative.  He was passionate about community as he was about his own personal explorations.  Many, including myself, considered him to be one of the cornerstones of the early Santora artist community in Santa Ana.  At art openings or just on a basic afternoon he could be seen sitting out in front of Neutral Grounds sketching whatever caught his fancy and conversing with whomever stopped to wonder and watch a blank page turn into a picture book which is how I initially got to know him.  Over time he became a good friend.  Gustavo's article does good job of capturing many important qualities of this multifaceted man.  The two events that did seem to be the gut punch for this proud and passionate man towards the time before his untimely, that came up a number of times in conversation were the destruction of the mural in FV and the brutal cutting in half of his architectural relief at the court house.  As one can imagine, regardless of your own personal aesthetics and response to Sergio's public art, it became a personal tragedy for the artist to have his work that he had poured his heart and soul into only to have thoughtlessly discarded by bureaucrats with no consideration for the history or passion that went into it, that many though obviously not all, considered a cultural treasure.

frank.art1
frank.art1

frankbell

Annemariew views are disturbing on so many levels. Whatever you feel about this artist and his work is your opinion but, the jury is still out on this one. He painted in a style that was relevant to his time and still has things to say to us.  Would you refer to Picasso and Van Gogh's work as lousy and paint by numbers?  This was a gifted artist who contributed to the Orange County Community. If you had explained yourself better and not used such a dismissive term as "Lousy" your argument would have been more credible. The Nazis destroyed many great works of art they because they viewed them as decadent. Let's not go down that road of mob rule opionion and make a mistake and in the process, some great works of art are lost forever, and forever is forever.  

mtschowengerdt
mtschowengerdt

Dearest Gustavo---Thank you for this lovely piece on a dear, old friend and Mentor of whom I continue to mourn the untimely passing of. I can only add that, he once told me the story of how "Coto de Caza" got its name: He personally coined it at the behest of the developer; "...it is a "nonsense, Spanish-sounding name," to quote; I'll never forget the mischievous look in his eye when he said, "I knew that it would appeal to a 'certain class of American' who'd want to buy into it just because of the name...." You really paid the great man and his equally-impressive daughter, Pilar, ample justice; he would've liked you very much; I wept throughout the article. Sincerely, Maria Schowengerdt

annemariew3
annemariew3

This guy was lousy.  His "works" look like really bad paint-by-number CRAP.

GustavoArellano
GustavoArellano

@nativeVnetwork Gracias for the tweet! Hope you liked it!

ocadizpilar
ocadizpilar

 @got2twinkle You speak truth. There is a power in you words which indeed reflect a message I know my father sought to convey in myriad ways.

funkdoppler
funkdoppler

 @annemariew3 this must be coming from the velvet painting lovers point of view. Rule 1 to the novice eye Art is subjective and 2 everyone is a critic" 

nickelplated0622
nickelplated0622

 @annemariew3 @wallywharton1 one is always entitled to their opinion, but to come on to post your negative opinion on the subject of an article, whether you like the art or the writer, show lack of tact. as the saying goes... "if you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all." otherwise you open yourself up to receive the opinions of others in reply to your not so well thought out banter, which comes of as jealousy, and puts to shame all that you may or may not have "accomplished" in your lives.peace be with you and your tormented soul.

 

bless

GustavoArellano
GustavoArellano moderator editortopcommenter

 @annemariew3 He could do more with one errant scribble than you've ever accomplished in your life.

wallywharton1
wallywharton1

Uh....I'm a "tormented soul" because my aesthetics clash with another person's aesthetics?  THAT'S a new one. I thought a Whole-Foods-Zen-Master-Rama-Freak like yourself would be able to respect a difference of opinion once in a while. Guess not. Oh well. May fleas infest your temple of doom and may Occupy L.A. camp out in your Green Spaced colon.

got2twinkle
got2twinkle

 @GustavoArellano   I have a few of those scribbles and I value them greatly.  Sergio could be generous for his favorite causes.  Though Sergio was raised with traditional ideas about women he also admired them greatly for their intellect.    Thank you for taking his daughter, Pilar's history about her father seriously and running with it.   Its a story we have all been waiting to read.   Your history is my history too.  Its the history I have been deprived of.  I hunger to know all of it warts and all.  How else can we do justice for the next generation.

annemariew3
annemariew3

DO you know what I've accomplished in my life, Mr. Arellano? No...I didn't think so. Nevertheless, I'll resist the persistant urge to call you a petty little fool and ask you why does absolutely everything you write about ALWAYS have to have a "Latino" angle? Is that in your contract or something? You're a talented writer. You might want to consider branching out from your Angry Chicano-thing.

ac20850
ac20850

 @wallywharton1

 Oh Gee, I guess its MY TURN to be scared because your sooooo intellectual! I'll let you in on a little secret sweetie, NO ONE HERE GIVES A SHIT WHAT YOU THINK OK? So please do us all a favor and take your opinions and SHOVE THEM UP YOUR ASS!!! And suck my big brown dick while your at it!!  ADIOS IDIOT..

GustavoArellano
GustavoArellano moderator editortopcommenter

 @annemariew3 Of course I know what you've accomplished—that you feel the need to write such a petty comment says all people need to know about you. "Angry Chicano" thing? You obviously don't know my religion-beat writing, which only further proves my original point.

wallywharton1
wallywharton1

Oooh, wow---a real live name-caller"-- how clever-- now I'm scared. Let's get back to the subject which is this guy's "art." I don't like it. That's not WRONG. That doesn't make me a BITCH. That doesn't mean I've never accomplished anything. It simply means I don't like this guy's painting. End of story. I'm entitled to my opinion.  It's too bad G.A. and ac20850 feel so threatened by a difference of opinion that they're compelled to lash out defensively. Sorry-- I don't have to love something just because it was done by some Mexican with minimal artistic talent.

 

ac20850
ac20850

 @annemariew3 Wow! Only a true pendeja like you would make such stupid comments. Oh well, "stupid is as stupid does" as the saying goes. Stupid BITCH!!! heh...heh!!

 
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