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

"It's a nice, quiet neighborhood," one Vietnamese resident told the paper about Colonia Juarez. "But I don't like all the colors on the [Calle Zaragoza] wall. I would like it just plain. Now it looks like violence."

The city had already threatened to tear it down in 1985, but O'Cadiz and other residents were able to sway officials otherwise then. But those officials crucially didn't allow O'Cadiz to restore the mural, so it eventually became the faded eyesore they had claimed it always was. In addition, city officials said the wall was not earthquake-safe, posed a danger to the community and no longer conformed to city building codes, claims that enraged O'Cadiz because they were so preposterous. They pointed to a neighborhood survey they conducted that claimed more than 70 percent of neighborhood's residents wanted the mural demolished and replaced with a sidewalk with landscaping.

Despite complaints from O'Cadiz and residents, the wall came down in 2001. "I'm powerless to do anything in the area," he told reporters. "I'm really sorry that there wasn't more vision [in the community]. In my culture, there is the tradition of oral history. That's what I will retreat into."

Roman O'Cadiz with his mother, Maria del Pilar O'Cadiz, who holds a photo of her father, Sergio
John Gilhooley
Roman O'Cadiz with his mother, Maria del Pilar O'Cadiz, who holds a photo of her father, Sergio
O’Cadiz’s Laborer
John Gilhooley
O’Cadiz’s Laborer

"He was livid and profoundly hurt," O'Cadiz's daughter says. "He was angry about society's ignorance of art in general, but especially public art, which he viewed as so important for a full society."

Those weren't the only indignities he faced. Fountain Valley leaders turned his fountain into planters, a desecration O'Cadiz only found about when he went to City Hall to try to save his mural; eventually, that sculpture was also destroyed. In 2000, Santa Ana planners blocked half of O'Cadiz's concrete mural on City Hall to make way for an annex without letting him know—he found out after friends came across construction crews obliterating his work.

Murals continued to sprout from O'Cadiz's hands—one for Garden Grove's Youth Center, another off Raitt Street in Santa Ana—but they were pedestrian works, the maestro going through the motions. He would occasionally show at galleries, but that world and its exorbitant prices soured him to the scene. Eventually, O'Cadiz's ouvre became a rumor, discussed in the past tense, rarely seen, with no new works appearing in years.

The destruction of his legacy left O'Cadiz disillusioned, refusing to leave his home. Toward the end of his life, he hired a lawyer to see if he could sue Fountain Valley and Santa Ana for destroying his work under the legal argument of public patrimony; since he had little money, he put up his entire collection as collateral.

Pilar tried to convince her father to stage a huge showing of his work as a comeback, but he refused. Nevertheless, she pressed on and was planning one until O'Cadiz passed away in 2002, survived by six children, three former wives and several grandchildren. The only obituary that newspapers printed was the announcement placed by his family.

* * *

In February of this year, Pilar participated in a lecture on the history of Chicano art in Orange County in a lecture at the Fullerton Public Library sponsored by OC Weekly. The crowd was small—about 40 people—but vibrant, although most of the audience comprised family members of Orange County's other legendary Chicano muralist, Emigdio Vasquez. Pilar had prepared a PowerPoint presentation of her father's work, pointing out those that had been destroyed and those that remained. The crowd sat in awe, clenched their jaws when seeing the destroyed Colonia Juarez mural, wanted more information. Afterward, they stood in line to talk to her—how could they purchase her father's work, or at the very least promote it?

It was a cathartic moment for her. The lecture happened almost 10 years after her father passed away, and it came just as Pilar was scheduled to announce an exhibit of her father's work in downtown Santa Ana—the first retrospective in decades.

"I feel obligated to my father, but it's important as an act of service," she says. "If I don't do it, who will?"

She continues to work at UCI, but she's increasingly devoting her time to trying to save her father's existing public-art projects. She has organized nearly monthly exhibits of his work this year in Santa Ana galleries, broken up by themes—Catholic iconography, workers and nude women. "He sure loved mujeres," Pilar cracks. In the works is curriculum that art teachers from K-12 and the colleges can use on O'Cadiz's work, as well as a cataloging and scanning of his paintings and sculptures in preparation for a possible book.

And it seems as if the art world is slowly remembering O'Cadiz. In April, the Los Angeles-based Center for the Study of Political Graphics contacted Pilar to let her know it had made an amazing discovery. The center had been the beneficiary of Shifra Goldman's collection, and among the works were the original sketches for O'Cadiz's History of the Chicano, an 8-foot-long scroll that's a piece of art in itself. It had been feared lost to history, mostly because it was unsigned; it took another legendary artist, Willie Herron of the art group ASCO to positively identify the picture as an O'Cadiz original. Archivists with the Smithsonian have approached Pilar about her father's work; art collectors are approaching about purchasing some of the work, although she refuses to sell them—"I tell them the starting price is half a million dollars, and I won't go lower." Just this past summer, a Brea official contacted Pilar; the city was doing an inventory of its Art In Public Places collection and realized it had no information on Sergio. And Pilar's son, Roman O'Cadiz, is an emerging artist in his own right; just a couple of months ago, Scott's Seafood commissioned him to paint a mural in its dining room, which earned him a glowing profile in the Santa Ana 'zine Santanero.

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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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