Tracing history, honoring a community Emigdio Vasquez mural highlights Chapman exhibitions included in Getty's Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA

It was the golden-brown eyes and work-worn face of the man in the outdoor mural that stopped the Chapman University student in her tracks.

“It’s beautiful,” said Amanda Remy ’21, whose grandparents came from Mexico. “My family traditionally had the lighter brown eyes, so the way the eyes kind of seem to glow, that reminds me a lot of my grandpa.”

Such personal connections to the artwork of acclaimed muralist Emigdio Vasquez were in abundance at an afternoon opening reception and tour Wednesday, Sept. 13, at the site of the mural, titled El Proletariado de Aztlán (The Proletariat of Aztlán), created in 1979 by Vasquez. And perhaps none were more profound than those of the late artist’s son, who was hired by Chapman to restore what many consider to be his father’s masterwork.

“For me, this was the dedication I was waiting for,” said artist Higgy Vasquez. “It means so much to me and to the people of the neighborhood, too.”

Artist Higgy Vasquez, right, chats with Mark Hilbert, founder of Chapman’s Hilbert Museum of California Art.

The event marked the university’s official opening of its exhibitions included in the Getty’s Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA, a sweeping assemblage of some 70 art shows and displays across Southern California exploring Latin American and Latino art.

Located in the historic Cypress Street Barrio, the mural is the catalyst for Chapman’s participation in the initiative. Painted onto the exterior garage walls of a single-story apartment building, the artwork illustrates Mexican-American history with depictions of an Aztec warrior, immigrant farmers, local barrio residents, the neighborhood store, car culture, revolutionary leader Che Guevara and labor leader Cesar Chavez among its scenes.

Vasquez’ work was long admired for its dignified expression of Chicano culture and realistic scenes of sometimes gritty human life. His oil paintings have been widely exhibited in museums and galleries and the iconic murals adorn the walls of several public buildings, colleges and city halls in Orange County.

Still, the newly energized recognition for Chicano murals would astound him, said his daughter Rosemary Vasquez-Tuthill.

“He never would have seen that coming. He would have been surprised and he probably would have said it’s long overdue,” said Vasquez-Tuthill, who is also a painter.

Rosemary Vasquez-Tuthill stands alongside a portion of the mural where her father included her likeness.

The mural’s inclusion in Pacific Standard Time also set the stage for a unique collaboration between Chapman and its neighbors, said Provost Glenn Pfeiffer, Ph.D.

“It’s an opportunity to recognize and honor the Latina and Latino heritage here in Orange County and draw upon the support of our neighbors, the Orange Barrio Historical Society and the Orange Public Library,” Pfeiffer said.

Another major Chapman exhibit in the Getty project is the ongoing creation of a mural project by Higgy Vasquez, with a Chapman senior assisting. The mural will be painted on a wall flanking the courtyard at the entrance of Moulton Hall and progress throughout the semester. The university’s history will be the mural’s subject.

Other related Pacific Standard Time projects at Chapman include:

  • An exhibition of approximately 30 works in a variety of media by contemporary artists. This exhibition includes highlights from Vasquez’ prolific oil painting career; The Guggenheim Gallery, Monday – Friday, Noon to 5 p.m., Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • A showcase of archival objects, ephemera and photographs with a focus on Chicanos in Orange County. This student-led exhibition was formed in collaboration with an interterm course on the Chicano/a art movement. Students helped to develop the displays and content, assisting in the installation and preparation, Henley Galleria, second floor of Argyros Forum.

El Proletariado de Aztlán is located in a residential neighborhood at 446 N. Cypress St. and is viewable from the public sidewalk. All Chapman exhibitions are free to the public.

The Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA continues through January 2018.

Find related coverage of the mural exhibition in The Los Angeles Times.

Display image at top/Neighborhood friends and members of the Orange Barrio Historical Society join Higgy Vasquez and Rosemary Vasquez-Tuthill at the reception for Chapman’s exhibitions in the Getty’s Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA.


Dawn Bonker