On March 21, 1961, UCSB’s newspaper profiled senior art student Michael Dvortcsak. Warranting attention from professors and peers alike, Mr. Dvortcsak made headlines for his work ethic, talent and character. Years later, he continues to impact those around him, even after his recent passing.
Last week, Mr. Dvortcsak, known as Mickey to his friends, died at the age of 81. During his long career as an artist, he held dozens of shows in Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York. Today, local residents can see his work at the Santa Barbara Museum, where a few of his paintings are included in the museum’s collection.
Survived by two sons and one daughter, as well as seven grandchildren, Mickey is remembered well, with memories that extend far past family.
“My dad had this incredible dedication and focus,” said Alexey Dvortcsak, Mickey’s son. “He knew it was hard to be an artist, but he made it his life.”
From an early age, Mickey loved art. He always had a knack for drawing cartoons, illustrating comics for his high school newspaper. Eventually, that interest turned into an art scholarship at UCSB, where Mickey developed his passion.
After graduating, Mickey spent years drawing and painting throughout Europe but was soon pulled back to Santa Barbara. Returning to UCSB, he earned a master’s degree in fine arts, then continued on as a professor.
Mickey taught for five years but knew he wanted more and chose to pursue a career as a full-time artist.
“I always thought of him as a renaissance type of person,” said Alexey. “He had an interest and appreciation for a lot of things. It was remarkable how he translated science into art and balanced color with shading.”
Inspired by masters like Rembrandt and Michelangelo, Mickey often focused on the human body. Figures were important for Mickey, as was capturing science, religion, mystery, and realism in his paintings.
Growing up, Alexey watched his father paint piece after piece. While Mickey’s art evolved and changed, his devotion to the work never ceased.
“I spent a lot of time in the studio doing homework, eating, and doing whatever, just watching him paint,” said Alexey. “It was nice to always have my father at home, calming me through art. It was spiritual.”
Alexey and his siblings lived at their father’s studio as Mickey couldn’t live away from his art. Every day, he would wake up and work from morning until night, constantly looking for new boundaries to break and more limits to push.
While Mickey’s diligence never faltered, his career wasn’t always stable. Sometimes. Alexey would see the toll making a successful career from art had on his father.
“There were times when I was nervous as a child, like when something wouldn’t sell at a show,” said Alexey. “But it certainly made me appreciate the life of an artist. And he inspired me.”
Mickey’s loved ones watched him cope with many hardships. While Mickey lost his first wife, struggled financially, and battled alcoholism, he continued to pursue his passion. As one of Mickey’s closest friends, Emanuel Cacciatore saw this firsthand.
“He had a really painful life, both physically and emotionally, but I have never met anyone that worked as hard as Mickey did,” said Mr. Cacciatore. “Even when monetary or critical acclaim eluded him, he worked incessantly.”
Mr. Cacciatore met Mickey in 1984 as he was starting his first year of graduate school at UCSB. While they only worked together for six years, the pair shared an almost indescribable connection.
“We knew what the other person was thinking and feeling without having to say a word,” said Mr. Cacciatore. “From the very beginning, we were soulmates.”
They shared a passion of intellect, philosophy, and art, but followed football and had a good time together as well. Mr. Cacciatore saw a lot of himself in Mickey and vice versa. Each married play with work seamlessly, making their time together as meaningful as it was fun.
While his memories with Mickey are countless, Mr. Cacciatore remembered one is particular.
“Mickey had to move from a large studio to a smaller space, so he had nowhere to put hundreds of his paintings,” said Mr. Cacciatore. “We had to put the paintings in the back of a rental truck and throw them in a dump. When a bulldozer came by shredding all the paintings, Mickey both started laughing and crying at the same time. It was amazing.”
For Mr. Cacciatore, that’s who Mickey was — cheerful in the good times and optimistic in the darkest, as well as a friend, sibling and parent figure. Mr. Cacciatore attributes much of his success to Mickey, who helped him not only grow as an artist, but also understand what it meant to be content.
“He gave me a real sense that life is bigger than art, but that the art was important, too,” said Mr. Cacciatore. “He taught me to respect both, so it was a wonderful mix of understanding the importance of what you were doing, but knowing it was part of this big thing called life.”
Even now, after Mickey has passed, Mr. Cacciatore feels his presence.
“Something like him doesn’t go away,” said Mr. Cacciatore. “Mickey will always be who he was because of what he did and how he lived his life.”
Even as Mickey got older, he never stopped. In his last few years, Mickey moved from his studio in Ojai to a one-bedroom apartment, but the workspace followed. Needing room to paint, Mickey chose to move his bed into the hallway.
“My dad started to slow down physically, but was still painting and doing shows,” said Alexey. “He always had the passion and the love up until the very end.”
Alexey’s voice faltered as he remembered his father. For a moment, he considered what he would say to his dad if they could speak to him one last time, but only four words came to mind.
“I love you, Pop.”