A Tribute to Julian Vergara, An American Artistic Genius

By Armando Vazquez, M.Ed., Executive Director, The Foundation, EERD

Julian Vergara, the artist, the enigma–a true American artistic genius, died in anonymity in Oxnard sometime at the end of January, 2018. Julian, it was reported, died alone in his sleep of natural causes.

Like so many of the great and totally obscure Latin American artists that I have known for the past 50 years Julian didn’t one day decide to whimsically pursue art as a life as much as he was  divinely/diabolically (?) anointed–Julian had little to no choice in the matter.

Life for an artist in America and in particular, artists of color, is an almost universal condemnation to a life of poverty, social isolation and ridicule. Yet these artistic geniuses, like Julian, preserve and create despite, or perhaps because of, the incredible hardships that they have to endure. The creation of art is to many of these artists their primary life source. The pain and hardship is the blood that pumps through their heart. Make no mistake:   life for an artist in America is often hell on earth.

As Pablo Picasso states, “The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our soul” That is what I saw in Julian’s life.  He had to work hard to simply survive and create art. He had to persevere if he wanted to laugh, to cry, to keep his monsters at bay, to invite the angels that hovered around him and sometimes sneaked into his soul for just one peaceful divine second. Julian had to paint to breathe and be able to take on an often hostile and foreboding world.

I came to know Julian about 20 years ago; we at the Acuna Art Gallery hosted Julian’s first major art exhibitions. We would host two other important exhibitions for Julian over the years. During this long 20 year period Julian demonstrated an incredible breath-taking creative genius. He had the technical skill, the confidence and the creative imagination to take on a variety of daunting art styles and techniques. He was a master contemporary surreal painter and sculptor; a genius of manipulating every day discarded material and incorporating meticulous paint strokes to create assemblage and collage masterpieces. In the past few years he had created hundreds, perhaps thousands of digital collages using internet images, magazine pictures and old black and white photos that he would incorporate with his magical surreal painting and poetry. Everything Julian created was meticulous, mysterious and for the most part kept secretly and sadly warehoused in Julian’s apartment, which doubled as his incredibly dark and crowded storage shed, and in his ever present smart phone.  And in the end I am sure millions of art pieces that Julian created and had stored in his brilliant mind are now gone into eternity with him.

“Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time” is what Thomas Merton said about the magical transformative power of art. My little problems with that beautiful equation is that “art”, much too often in America involves only one person, the lonely artist. What about the rest of the world, what about Oxnard?

 Julian both found and lost himself in his art, dreadfully alone most of the time. We the few close friends that he had saw the pain and the loneliness, and simultaneously were touched by his artistic genius. Ironically, Julian was a gracious, giving soul, he wanted people to like him and he wanted to like people. He was the consummate old school gentlemen. However, as much as he tried and wanted to share his artistic genius with the community, he was almost universally misunderstood, rejected or ignored. That is the shame and pity of our collective indifference and disregard to the life, work and animosity that far too many artists face each and every day of their lives in America. 

There was one place that Julian felt free, respected and needed and that was on the soccer fields of Oxnard. Like many of us Latino artists we love our futbol! He was a tremendous futbbol player and great youth coach. He was highly respected by the youth, the parents and the coaches of the Oxnard plains area. The kids loved his no nonsense and knowledgeable approach to training and game strategies. He was a volunteer soccer coach for all of the 20 years that we knew him. The soccer kids and parents, as well as the entire Oxnard plains area, will greatly miss Coach Julian!

“There is no greater glory than to die for love” Gabriel Garcia Marquez noted late in his life. Julian died with love in his heart for all of us, his friends, the people of Oxnard, his beloved Colombia, and the world, even if we didn’t know it or notice his love for us. That is how big Julian’s heart was–it made it possible for him to magically create his sacred artistic master pieces for the world to love. Julian dearest friend, I wish I could have known you more, and loved you more. I wish the people of Oxnard, and of Colombia, and the world had known you more–they would have loved you. Today you rest in the bosom of eternal love; love has found you! One day the entire world will know your artistic genius.

Armando Vazquez

Armando Vazquez, M.Ed.  is Executive Director of  Acuna Art Gallery/Café on A, Executive Director for The KEYS Leadership Academy and Chairman of the Oxnard Multicultural Mental Health/coalition


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