Unveiling this month at Chapman University is a new mural depicting the history, people and neighborhood life that helped shape the University and its surrounding community. “Visions of Chapman” by Orange County artist Higgy Vasquez will be celebrated at a public reception on Wednesday, Sept. 12, at 5 p.m.
The 27-foot mural, painted on the exterior of Waltmar Theatre, depicts campus and community life, with images ranging from University namesake C.C. Chapman to neighbors gathered at a Jamaica Festival in the historic Cypress Street Barrio.
Vasquez hopes the artwork will inspire viewers to pause and consider the people who infuse life into a community.
“Everyone’s so self-absorbed in Instagram and nobody’s telling stories anymore. They’re just showing a picture,” Vasquez says. “Nobody’s giving content to what you’re looking at. So I’m hoping that this creates that.”
A Family of Murals
The idea for “Visions of Chapman” evolved after Vasquez was commissioned by Chapman to restore an iconic mural painted by his late father, the famed artist and muralist Emigdio Vasquez, often called “the godfather of Chicano art.” That mural on the side of a Cypress Street apartment complex was the central piece in the University’s participation in The Getty Center’s Pacific Standard Time LA/LA regional exhibition.
The new mural took about a year to plan and another year to paint. All along the way it received support from the Ellingson family, as well as research assistance from the Orange Barrio Historical Society and the Orange Public Library.
As the work progressed, passersby grew accustomed to seeing Vasquez perched on scaffolding with a paintbrush in hand, or dousing the surrounding concrete paths in an effort to add moisture to the air to keep the tempera paint from drying too quickly as the artist fine-tuned the work.
The impact is already apparent, says Lindsay Shen, Ph.D., Chapman’s director of art collections, whose office looks out on the mural.
“This was a walk-through space. People don’t just walk through it anymore, though. They stop, they talk to each other, they look. What he’s also done, in addition to telling a story, is create a new community space for us,” Shen says.
Generally following natural indentations on the wall, Vasquez divided the mural into three sections. The first pays homage to the early Chapman history and the region’s citrus era with depictions of C.C. Chapman, an orange grove and fruit pickers.
History Artfully Portrayed
Students, alumni, campus buildings and historic visitors to Chapman such as the Rev. Martin Luther King and author and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel dominate the center section.
If You Go
The reception is free and open to the public. Following the unveiling and a champagne toast, two documentaries, including a 10-minute film highlighting the new mural and another chronicling the restoration of the Cypress Street mural, will screen in Waltmar Theatre.
In the third, the life of the Cypress Street Barrio is celebrated with a gathering of families and neighbors at a Jamaica Festival. This section includes a small image of the artist himself, grinning from the right-hand corner.
That grin is sure to be a presence at the unveiling. Attending the reception will be several of the people portrayed, or their family members. Vasquez says that will be a particular joy for him.
“I’m so looking forward to celebrating with everybody,” he says.