A Flight From Poverty:
Artist Francisco Norzagary
The work of Francisco Norzagary
It’s a long way from the mean streets of Nogales, Mexico where artist Francisco Norzagary grew up. As a little boy, he had to steal to eat. When he was in the third grade, his family immigrated to the U.S. for a better life. They crossed the border to Nogales, Arizona and eventually settled in California.
After working for 42 years, Norzagary injured his back on the job. He returned to Arizona and settled in Tucson. Finding himself homeless, he started painting to make a living. Norzagary’s determination in the face of adversity is a poignant example of an immigrant’s American success story.
His art is difficult to categorize. It reflects his Southwest heritage and yet it also has a phantasmagorical quality. The majority of his work has a fantasy appearance, like something in a dream or created by his imagination. “I use anything and everything to be creative,” he notes. Norzagary paints utilizing watercolors, Indian ink, colored pencil, acrylic and oils. He considers his work to embrace themes of nature, Native Americans, revolutionary history and anything that is related to the Southwest. He currently sells his art at El Charro Café, America’s oldest Mexican restaurant. His work has also been exhibited at the DeGrazia Gallery of the Sun, built by the renowned artist Ted DeGrazia, on North Swan.
A favorite subject of his is butterflies, the genesis of which came from his desire to paint the seasons. For example, “Mariposa” features an avant-garde woman with a look from the 1920s that has angel wings on her back filled with butterflies. His art also features a portfolio of hummingbirds. The hummingbirds are all whimsical in their details, including: Los Lobos; Homeland Security; Carlos Santana; John Wayne; The Good, The Bad and the Ugly; “Mona Lisa”; “The Last Supper”; and even a hummingbird with a University of Arizona t-shirt. He sells his prints in frames that are as unique and beautiful as his art.
Norzagary started painting when he was three years old, however he didn’t think of himself as an artist until much later in life. His art and subject matter of butterflies and hummingbirds symbolize his own flight from poverty. With the guarded optimism of a late blooming artist, Norzagary states, “I never painted to become rich or a millionaire; I paint because I love it. As an artist you struggle all your life to get recognized. If it’s meant to happen, it will.”
Norzagary expresses that what he is most grateful for is his family. He is the proud father of four boys. He loves to regale his customers with stories about his struggle. When he moved to Tucson he prayed to the Virgin de Guadalupe for a place to live. “She’s our spiritual mom. I pray to her and I paint her a lot,” he notes. His prayers were answered when a realtor called him about a ranch house in the desert. He knew it was meant to be when he discovered that the house was on Altar Street and that it had four mesquite trees at the entrance. He built a chapel for the Virgin de Guadalupe in her honor when he moved into his new home.
In addition to being a self-taught artist, Norzagary is a philosopher. He engages his customers with his gems of wisdom, sharing aphorisms like: “Nothing is impossible and everything is possible”; “In life we all have our speed bumps. It’s a reminder to us that they will make you or they will break you”; and “Believe in yourself and be thankful for what you’ve been given.”
How does Norzagary deal with being an artist in a capitalistic society? As a well-known local artist, not only does he not care about his financial success, but he is committed to philanthropy. “As an artist, the community supports me in what I do. In return, I give back to the community. I like to get involved. Maybe it’s something we all should do—help out,” he observes. Some of the ways he helps out in Tucson include working with at-risk youth teaching art and donating to the Community Food Bank. Norzagary considers his art as an expression of who he is as a person. He paints to spread kindness.
Despite the fact that he was raised in a home with an alcoholic father who abused his mother, he also grew up embracing the love of music. He attributes this affinity for music to his mother. She sang with a mariachi band when he was young. Some of his favorite musicians include Jimmy Hendrix, Javier Solis, the “Frank Sinatra of Mexico”, and Los Lobos.
Norzagary plays guitar and uses music as the inspiration for his art. “I play guitar to warm up the engine to go paint,” he analogizes. Look closely enough at his art and you can hear the music.
Connect with Franisco Norzagary at the El Charro downtown location, Friday to Sunday each week. Facebook.com/people/Francisco- Norzagaray/100005846054087.
Suzie Agrillo is a freelance writer in Tucson and a frequent contributor to Natural Awakenings Magazine. She focuses on writing about the arts, inspirational people and the human connection. Connect at Suzie@ComedyForCharity.org.