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OMA&D Remembers Trailblazing Artist Alfredo Arreguin

Photo: Taken by Mary Levin for UW Magazine

Alfredo Arreguin ‘67, ’69, passed on April 24, 2023, at the age of 88.

Many articles have been written about Arreguin and his journey from his home country of Mexico to the University of Washington, his early life struggles, his draft service into the Korean war, and his world-renowned success as an artist. A biographical essay by Sheila Farr from outlines details including the artist’s past from his birth in Morelia, Mexico, being raised mostly by a single mother and his grandparents, reuniting with his birth father, to the challenges of finding his identity as a painter both in Mexico and in the United States.

His work is celebrated around the world with exhibits in Spain, Mexico, and in the Smithsonian’s permanent collection at the National Museum of American Art and the National Portrait Gallery. Arreguin is often written about for his unique style of painting that critics and those with an appreciation of art have described as deliberate, intricate, patterned, visual Cumbia, and as described by art critic Matthew Kangas for UW Magazine, “hallucinatory states of complexity and beauty,” and “a magic realist.” In the same article from September 2001, Andrew Connors, a curator for the Smithsonian Institution described, “his paintings unleash our imagination and free us to envision an ideal world by celebrating both the ethereal and the tangible world among us.” Later in his life, after achieving popular recognition, more was written about his lifelong devotion to social justice and the environment, as well as about his outstanding character.

In an article about Arreguin’s passing from the Seattle Times, his son Ivan Arreguin-Toft said, “when you met him in person, it was like wrestling with lightning. He whirled around the room … His laugh would just echo in almost any size room.” Similarly, renowned poet and close personal friend to Arreguin, Tess Gallagher, is recorded describing him in his youth as, “gigantically unpredictable, maniacally jovial, or swirling like liquid fire around us, scorching us with insights and insults by turn.” For anyone who met him at nearly any point in his life, they understood the larger-than-life personality Arreguin carried with him into every room he entered. Multiple close friends and colleagues describe his laughter – that he was boisterous and loud – many describing him as gregarious, joyful, and outgoing. However, all accounts describe him as warm, welcoming, and have a story to share of his generosity.

Vivian Lee ’58, ‘59, one of the founders of the UW Multicultural Alumni Partnership (MAP) met with Arreguin at his favorite restaurant, The Bryant Corner Café in Seattle, to gauge his interest in becoming a MAP supporter. Barely in their fourth year, the MAP organizers understood that to provide scholarships for students, they needed to raise funds which would require long-term fundraising partners. Arreguin immediately agreed to be part of MAP’s efforts and became the first permanent partner for MAP. “He believed in our goals of assisting students and bringing alumni back to campus.” Lee continued, “he committed to provide a piece of his art to the auction for the rest of his life.” Later he also donated to auctions for the Educational Opportunity Program in the UW Office of Minority Affairs & Diversity (OMA&D). Lee and Arreguin grew close as friends with the shared vision to support students at the UW and to reengage alumni from multicultural backgrounds. “He cared about people. He brought sunshine,” said Lee. “Right away you picked up on the fact that he was someone you could trust with your life if you needed to.” Arreguin was awarded the MAP Distinguished Alumni Award in 2000, and a MAP scholarship has been named in his honor. “I was very honored to be called a friend of his,” said Lee. “His art was his way of demonstrating what was in his heart. It’s a great loss.”

Norma Linda Ureña ’94 met Arreguin and his wife, also a successful artist, Susan Lytle, while Ureña was still in college and teaching one of their children in primary school. She recalls when she first met them and their developed friendship over the years. “I didn’t know he was a famous artist. He was so friendly and open, and more than anything, what I remember from that first meeting was him encouraging me,” said Ureña. Over the years as she spent more time with the family, she witnessed first-hand the overwhelming acts of generosity Arreguin became well known for. “He was generous with is time, his art, his space – he was very open and transparent.” Ureña continued, “I could feel his warmth and being in his presence when he was around.” Warmth, kindness, generosity, and vibrancy were all common feelings for those who were in Arreguin’s company. University of Washington President Ana Mari Cauce is quoted in the Seattle Times as saying, “his legacy is all around us in his art. He made my spirit soar like the breaching orcas in his paintings.”

UW Professor Lauro Flores, author of Alfredo Arreguin: Patterns of Dreams and Nature / Disenos, Suenos y Naturaleza, and close friend describes Arreguin’s commitment to the arts and social issues. “His generosity translated to all of the ways he showed up socially – as a role model to include younger artists – including artists at all levels of their career,” said Flores. “[He understood] the manner in which Mexican Americans, of Chicanos, how we are perceived, and that we could and are contributing to society on many different levels. And that’s how Alfredo was.” The late Roberto Maesta ’67, ’71, former director of El Centro de la Raza told UW Magazine in 2001, “I often wonder, without Alfredo, how would we have projected the brilliant art that characterizes Mexico.” Maesta continued, “Because of his political statements and his artistic talent, Alfredo helped put Washington on the map. He has paved the way for appreciation for other Chicano artists.” Indeed, Arreguin is credited as inspiration to a number of Pacific Northwest Mexican-American and Chicano artists over the years. Among his accolades, he was awarded the Washington state Governor’s Art and Heritage Award in 1986, and the Ohtil Award from the Mexican government for promoting Mexican culture abroad.

“OMA&D sends our condolences to Susan and the rest of the Arreguin family,” said Vice President for OMA&D and UW University Diversity Officer Rickey Hall. “His passing is a tremendous loss to the whole community. OMA&D and MAP will deeply miss Alfredo’s laughter, conversation, insight, and dedication to the mission of educational access and success for all and increased representation in the arts.”

Arreguin has received a myriad of awards, recognitions, and public accolades for both his art and his commitment to social issues. He is survived by his wife Susan Lytle, children Ivan Arreguin-Toft, Kristine Arreguin, Lesley Rialto Lytle-Arreguin, three grandchildren, and one great-grandson. A public celebration of his life will be planned for summer or fall of 2023.