Emigidio Vasquez, a legendary Chicano artist most famous for his epic murals that continue to dot Orange County, passed away yesterday after a long illness. He was 74.
Born in the mining town of Jerome, Arizona, Vasquez moved to Orange's Cypress Street barrio in the 1940s and eventually gravitated toward painting. In his heyday, he achieved the almost-impossible: mainstream, underground AND governmental success, as his works became famous nationwide among art lovers and lionized among Chicano activists. He even scored contracts to do public murals for the county of Orange (the sprawling epic of OC history off the old OCTA bus terminal near the Civic Center in SanTana) and the city of Anaheim (in a mural located in the lobby of Anaheim City Hall) during the 1980s.
Unfortunately, Orange County is an ingrate, and Vasquez and his supporters spent the last years of his life trying to preserve his work from being destroyed by the elements, indifference, and law enforcement.
Back in 2006, I wrote about his fading Anaheim masterpiece, Memories of the Past and Images of the Present; as of this writing, only a tiny sliver has been restored. In 2009, I wrote about how the Orange Police Department was trying to claim that a Vasquez mural, “Tribute to the Chicano Working Class”, painted on a garage in the Cypress Street barrio was deserving of whitewashing because it supposedly promoted, glamorized and inspired gang violence. The Orange PD stance was used by the Orange County District Attorney's office to issue a gang injunction in the area that later on was largely ruled unconstitutional. And last year, during an awards ceremony in Vasquez's honor, I urged everyone in attendance to work toward preserving Vasquez's murals, especially given many of them were painted in areas currently being gentrified. So far,
nothing, a little bit.
No details of any memorial service for Vasquez has yet been disclosed by his family. A GoFund account has been set up to defray the costs of Vasquez's coming service.