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

O'Cadiz found an academic champion in Shifra Goldman, a professor of art at Santa Ana College who was one of the few Anglo champions of Chicano art during the 1970s. It was her classes on Mexican art that inspired members of the Chicano student group MEChA (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanos de Aztlán) to want to paint their own Chicano mural at the college and request that O'Cadiz help them. Under his direction, The History of the Chicano was unveiled at the school's Nealy Library in 1974. It's an 80-foot stunner that occupies two walls of the room, its central image an armed, crouching Posada-esque calavera dressed in bandoliers and a feathered pachuco fedora moving from left to right, emerging from the genocidal invasion of Spain represented by darkness and a conquistador helmet at the left of the mural to point toward the bright future at the right. All of O'Cadiz's motifs are there—warm, lush figures coupled with abstract faces, geometric mosaics and heaps of symbolism mixed with an affinity for realism.

The 1970s were O'Cadiz's most fruitful era—he was able to dabble in mainstream and Chicano circles, as both demanded his work. Another Chicano-themed mural sprang up at Cal State Fullerton in 1974. He designed a concrete mural for Santa Ana City Hall in 1972; it was built into walls using Styrofoam molds he set into wet cement that he sandblasted once the cement dried. He employed the same style for the East Los Angeles Occupational Center in 1977. Sculptural fountains for Fountain Valley's Civic Center and Newport Beach's Promontory Plaza arose, along with a 16-foot concrete sculpture for Brea in 1975 titled Sunburst on the corner of Brea Canyon and Canyon Country roads. All of his public works were proudly Mexican without being assertively so. The Fountain Valley fountain, for instance, was a collection of concrete pillars that dramatically jutted out from the center of a shallow lagoon, looking simultaneously like ruins, old structures and part of the natural landscape. And all along, O'Cadiz would paint for himself, paint for friends, paint for commission—just paint.

It was his Fountain Valley mural, however, that became O'Cadiz's magnum opus. In 1975, Colonia Juarez residents asked Fountain Valley if it could pay O'Cadiz $300 to paint a mural on the Calle Zaragoza wall; city officials responded with $700 and submitted a grant to the National Endowment for the Arts and the California Arts Commission to fund him with tens of thousands of dollars more. Under O'Cadiz's direction, Colonia Juarez residents painted the 600-foot-plus wall with a history of their barrio, from the arrival of their parents and grandparents to the present day. Residents spared no punches in their depictions of barrio life. One panel showed crouching Indians putting on frowning white masks, a representation of the barrio's forced assimilation into America; another listed Latino war heroes from World War II and the Vietnam War, since many Colonia Juarez residents had fought for their country. Another section was left blank for the community to do what it wished.

But the mural quickly became mired in controversy. On the wall also were the names of Colonia Juarez residents who had been killed over the years by gang violence. Another panel depicted cops in gas masks dragging away a young Mexican-American man to a police car, earning the wrath of Fountain Valley police. "It just doesn't happen to be what we think the school kids should see every day walking down the street," the police chief told the Times. Vandals eventually defaced that section with white paint; city fathers pulled O'Cadiz's funding and claimed they had never submitted grant applications in the first place.

With no funds to finish the mural, O'Cadiz took a six-month gig in Japan—he wouldn't finish the Colonia Juarez project for another six years. By the time he did, O'Cadiz was no longer in demand—the only major work from the 1980s was a mural at Oberlin College in Ohio, where Pilar was an undergraduate. The same officials and gallery crowd who once praised him now heaped scorn. "Nobody seems to be terribly interested in murals anymore," an Orange County Historical Commission Member told The Register in the 1980s in justifying government negligence toward O'Cadiz's monument. "Orange County just isn't a real ethnic-wall-art sort of place."

The days of public adulation were over. O'Cadiz had to give up his studio when the 55 freeway was lengthened. He continued to consult in the design of schools and libraries for Ralph Allen & Partners—he even worked on sketches for Coto de Caza residences—but clients no longer asked specifically for him. Reporters checked in on him periodically and wrote the stock story—the former rising star who was now a recluse, undone by his "fury" with "unruly hair and rumpled clothes." Even worse, bureaucrats started tinkering with his artwork.

In late 1999, under the guise of a beautification program, Fountain Valley announced it would tear down the Colonia Juarez wall on which O'Cadiz's mural stood. Then-councilwoman Laurann Cook used its newfound diversity and lack of ties to the fading mural as an excuse to take the wall down. "The diversity [of the neighborhood] lends itself to becoming one neighborhood,'" she told The Orange County Register.

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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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