Pepe Ozan (1940-2013)

Pepe Ozan (photo by Dust & Illusions)

We are deeply saddened by the news of artist Pepe Ozan’s recent death. Pepe was a formidable and passionate artist, sculptor and visionary who contributed greatly to the Burning Man experience. As one of the great creators of Burning Man art over a period spanning decades, Pepe gave tremendously to the event, the community and ultimately to the culture that has grown out of Black Rock City.

“Lingam”, 1993 (photo by Stuart Harvey)

One of Pepe’s lingam sculptures was first burned at Burning Man in 1993, and he created “Pepe’s Tower” each year after that until 2000. In Burning Man’s early years in the Black Rock Desert, the ritual burning of “Pepe’s Tower” on Friday night was traditionally followed by the burning of the Man the next evening. The Friday night ritual became more elaborate each year, and in 1996 it was renamed “The Burning Man Opera”.

“Le Nystere de Papa Loko” opera, 1999 (Photo by Tom Pendergast)

Pepe’s elaborate operas included “The Arrival of Empress Zoe” (1996), “The Daughters of Ishtar” (1997), “The Temple of Rudra” (1998), “Le Mystere De Papa Loko” (1999), “The Thaur-Taurs of Atlan” (2000), and “Ark of the Nereids” (2002), which featured a 35′-long mobile sculpture / musical instrument in the form of a Spanish Galleon crossed with a mythical aquatic creature. These epic performances, remembered fondly by so many in our community, would feature over 2,000 dancers and performers – in a true demonstration of radical inclusion, any and all Burners were invited to participate.

“The Dreamer” in Golden Gate Park (photo by Brad Immanuel)


Pepe’s “The Dreamer” sculpture was commissioned by Burning Man in 2005 for the “Psyche” art theme, after which it was installed in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park by the Black Rock Arts Foundation from May to November of 2007.

“Monicacos de Esperanza”, 2006 (photo by Alan Matthew)


In 2006, Pepe created his last installation for Burning Man, the whimsical collection of colorful surrealist figures “Monicacos de Esperanza”. These were later installed by the Black Rock Arts Foundation as one of the premiere installations for San Francisco’s new Blue Greenway Project art trail.

“The Ark of Nereids”, 2002 (photo by Michael Depraida)


You can see Pepe’s “Eagle-Warrior” next to Cesar Chavez Street under the Highway 101 overpass in San Francisco; read a great interview with Pepe discussing Burning Man, taking risks, living intensely, transformation and more; and get a taste for Pepe’s operas in the trailer for Dean Mermell’s film “The Eye of Rudra”. Finally, we welcome to browse through Pepe’s work in the Burning Man image gallery.

We are indebted to Pepe, and he will be dearly missed both as an artist and as a friend to Burning Man. We invite you to share your stories about Pepe in the comments below.


City of Dis, 1996 (photo by Carlos Hunt)
“Daughters of Ishtar”, 1997 (photo by Holly Kreuter)
Temple of Rudra poster, 1998
“The Thar-Taurs of Atlan”, 2000 (photo by Melitta Tchaicovsky)
“The Thar-Taurs of Atlan” on fire, 2000 (photo by Maurizio Niccolai)
One of the “Monicacos de Esperanza” at SF Decompression, 2006 (photo by CameraGirl)
“The Dreamer” on playa, 2005 (photo by Gabe Kirchheimer)

About the author: Will Chase

Will Chase first attended Burning Man 2001. He volunteered as the Operations Manager for the ARTery (Black Rock City’s art HQ) and was on the Burning Man Art Council from 2003-2008. He was Web Team Project Manager and Webmaster from 2004-2009, then transitioned to the Communications Department in 2009 to become Minister of Propaganda, working on global communications strategy. He's the editor-in-chief for the Jackrabbit Speaks newsletter and the Voices of Burning Man blog, and content manager for Burning Man’s websites. He also manages the ePlaya BBS and Burning Man’s social networking efforts.

66 thoughts on “Pepe Ozan (1940-2013)

  • Ah, Pepe. It was always a little scary to look into your eyes, the fire and vision was inspiring and very very large!
    We will all miss your long flowing hair. ;-)


    Report comment

  • I never met Pepe. But I was there in 1996 to see his opera. Truly amazing.

    I vividly remember watching as fire dancers danced around the spires, as fires were lit underneath each tower, as the flames rose and spat out the mouths of the gargoyles, as the actors slowly processed down the stairs just before the towers collapsed.

    For years afterwards, it remained seared in my memory. It was one of the most amazing sculptures and performances I had ever seen, and remains one of my key memories of the majesty of that year.

    I returned last year for the first time since then and was saddened to find out the opera was no more. May we all hold these, and all his art, in our memories. His art truly inspired.

    Report comment

  • Through his enthusiasm, sweat and brilliance, Pepe fathered a community that rediscovered transformative rites of passage and invoked a sense of mystery and wonder on a grand scale. Working on the music for the Burning Man Operas was one of the pivotal experiences of my life, and I can’t even begin to count the friends I may never have met – or know SO DEEPLY – if it were not for Pepe and his wild imagination. And his ability to Make It Real. Thank you, dear Pepe. Give you a big hug.

    (You know those commercials about the Most Interesting Man In The World? They always remind me of Pepe.)

    Report comment

  • The opera at the Temple of Rudra in 1998 was an unforgettable experience for me. It was Saturday night and I should have been in Med camp from dehydration and alcohol poisoning. Instead I was in fetal position in my tent, occasionally emerging to dry heave. The opera was supposed to start at midnight (The Man burned on Sunday back then) and by pure luck, it didn’t start until 3am about the time I was well enough to walk out on the Playa and have some fun again. It was worth the wait, as no one present was disappointed except for maybe a few folks who timed a psychedelic trip to the original start time. Oops. We love you and miss you and your art Pepe….Much Love. –hp

    Report comment

  • I’m devastated by this news, but I feel so lucky to have worked with Pepe on the Burning Man opera from 1996-9. He welcomed me into his camp with open arms when I turned up on the playa weeks before the festival (and weeks before all my friends arrived) in ’96.

    I hadn’t seen Pepe since ’99, but it’s hard to overstate how large he looms in my memories of those years, and to the degree that my time at Burning Man has influenced my life, Pepe played a huge role in that. I remember him as flamboyant, larger-than-life, with an artistic vision that swept hundreds of us along with it as workers and artists and performers. I picture him striding around the playa, shirtless, with beaded necklaces in his dusty chest hair, smiling under his awesome mustache. I remember so many “mud runs” to Fly in his old horned pickup, so many cuts on my hands from all the hours spent sculpting metal mesh or mudding the towers. Pepe, it was a pleasure to bleed for you, and I wish I could do it again.

    I still have a metal mesh flower from the Daughters of Ishtar because he saw me working on it one day, praised it, and encouraged me to have it because it was “good art”. Hearing that praise from him just awed me and thrilled me completely. (I never thought of myself as an artist, but it was impossible to be around Pepe and not be inspired.)

    I hadn’t seen Pepe since ’99, but I’ve thought of him often and thought about tracking him down. Now I really wish I had. He was a friend, but he was also a towering figure and an inspiration at a particularly formative period in my life. Rest in peace, Pepe. See you on the playa in the next world.

    Report comment

  • Que intensidad y que brabura la de este hombre…. Pepe ve haciendo sitio que ya pasaremos a hecharnos unos vinos , ver tu arte y darnos unos bailongos. Buen viaje amigo libre como el viento.

    Report comment

  • my first burn in ’05, i visited “The Dreamer”that first night on the playa, and was moved to a new appreciation of true art!!! Thank you. Pepe

    Report comment

  • Pepe was the best. A true artist in every sense. He was a very dedicated burner who I will miss alot. I will never forget him and his awesome Burning Man Opera’s.

    Report comment

  • Peace, Pepe. I never met you except through your art, starting with Dreamer in my virgin year 2005, but with that and your 2006 surreal figures, I knew to depend on your art for my own inspiration. Ran into it again later a couple times in the Bay area with friends and declared to them: “Hey! That’s Pepe Ozan!” From their nonplussed reactions, I knew that I had come much closer than they through my Playa trips. This will be my ninth year, and I remember Pepe. I’ve missed him each year since ’06, thinking, “Where has he gone?” Now I know, and I’m saddened by the knowledge. May his memory be for a blessing and continued inspiration to all who were ever exposed to this great man or his art.

    Report comment

  • In the wayback machine (or more nearly two decades ago), i took my youngest son Buckethead to his third Burning Man. Pepe’s operas were a moment of pure and stellar artistic magic, and Buckethead (though on 3.5 at the time) wanted so much to make sure he saw the opera. The rain postponed the magic for several hours, but sure enough, when it was time, Buckethead awoke, rolled into his wagon, stood up to watch the entire thing, and then fell back asleep with a beautific smile on his face.
    That was how impactful and magical Pepe could be.

    Report comment

  • As hard as many worked on the Ozan Operas, Pepe outworked us all. Each opera was a year of effort. Each year new books on strange religions appeared on his book shelves as Pepe extracted a ritual from an ancient or current belief, scripted an opera capable of producing the cathartic experience he wished his performers to undergo, designed a sculpture-stage capable also of forcing fire into art, of withstanding the playa winds, and of collapsing at an uncontrolled, random moment – aletorio, Pepe insisted. Moreover, Pepe’s inspired and recruited the vast skills needed to realize such a performance, there was music to compose, songs to write, choreograph to design, costumes to construct, performers to recruit and train, rehearsals to conduct – both before and during the event, and a theme camp to organize. My thanks to Pepe, to those whose skills made Pepe’s visions reality, and to the Burning Man Organization for funding. I join these many postings with thanks for amazing experiences, personal growth, appreciation of what focused dedication can make become reality, and profound respect for Pepe’s abilities as an artist and motivator. Que le vaya bien Pepe, como un huracan transformativo.

    Report comment

  • Thank you Pepe. Your Operas rocked! They literally set the stage for what Burningman became. Performing in them set the tone for my Firedancing and how I would create and remain in character throughout the Burn and as much of my life as possible (for better and for worse, as the default world does not know how to deal with attitude and behavior out of its little box. I have met much resistance even from other Burners who did not experience the blessed truths of the opera and the early Burns, yet this relationship to life and darkness has been a crucial part of my dedicated spiritual path and I do not regret it).
    Indeed, as Burningman has slowly, disappointedly seen the critical Chaos replaced by overwhelming Order, it is your Opera that is so deeply missed.
    Thank you my friend. You live on.

    Report comment

  • In August of 1982, Nina Simone was staying with me and I took her to a party at Project Artaud where I introduced her to Pepe. Nina had told me that she liked being naked and wanted to go somewhere where we could be naked. I couldn’t take her up to Harbin so I suggested THE HOT TUBS on Van Ness. Well, she wanted Pepe to come along so we invited him. So, if he ever told anyone that story. It was true.

    I wish I would have known that Pepe did that Eagle Warrior sculture on Cesar Chavez. I love that sculpture so much. It gives me great pleasure every time I see it and I wish I could have told him that.

    Thank you Pepe. You were a true Renaissance man and sexy to the very end. You will be missed but your work will live on.

    Report comment

  • We just watched the documentary about Burning Man on Netflix which reminded us of Pepe, so we googled him and are very sad to have found this news. Yes, he had an intense and playful look in his eye that drew you in. He made the simplest acts sublime: sipping wine, talking about art and friendship. He really was the Most Interesting Man in the World. He was the real deal.

    Report comment

  • Leave a Reply