Pepe Ozan was a slender compact man, elegant at times, forceful at others. In all ways but physical stature he was BIG. Big ideas, big appetites, big action, big heart, big visions of what to make and do: big life force. It’s not that he was a small man physically – he was average height and weight with a very fit, muscular build. The thing that constantly amazed me and so many others who knew and worked, lived, clashed, created and destroyed with him was the idea that such a modest seeming vessel could contain such volcanic energy and drive. I had the honor and great good fortune to know and work with him on several very intense projects in the mid-90’s. I first met Pepe in early 1994 through William Binzen and Judy West. We were planning the 2nd years iteration of Desert Site Works, to take place at Trego Hot Springs over the Summer Solstice. Pepe built his first Lingum at Trego that Summer and came back with us to Burning Man a few months later where he built a larger Lingum and designed the ritual performance around it, immediately taking his place as the premier creator at BM.
He could be a hard task-master to those who assisted him, but each and every one was better for the experience. Deeply loved by many, feared by a few, he was respected by all. Though best known to the world as the originator of Temple and the Opera at Burning Man, his talents and ambitions transcended that event. His fascination with India led him there on several occasions culminating in unique and insightful films about that strange and kaleidoscopic land. His other world travels, undertaken before I met him included sailing across entire seas in small vessels, trekking remote sectors of the planet and living amidst and coming to know obscure cultures. He never did anything half-assed. His contribution to the CarHunt expedition that Robert Burk and I conceived and executed in collaboration with the machine art cabal PeopleHater in 1995 was to build the 100% steel wheels for the hunt vehicle. A small task for so talented a metal worker, he nonetheless attacked it with gusto and an unbending will to make the finest, strongest, most perfect plate steel, rebar treaded “tires” for an Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser Station Wagon imaginable! – a pretty silly task, on the whole for someone used to commanding hordes of costumed performers on massive sets that he conceived and brought to life, but Pepe made art fabricating those wheels. Pepe and the mischievous Robert Burk sailed across the Atlantic together having near death as well as transcendental experiences. I heard some tales from both men and marveled at their tenacity and luck. Their friendship was strained by the experience, only to reignite in later years while working together on Burning Man.
There were intense, vibrant, joyous, stormy, epiphanous experiences swirling constantly around the man. I recall him commandeering dozens of helpers in a constant stream of mud from Trego to the giant tower he was building on the playa one year. He worked his crew hard, hoping to get all the mud needed before being shut down at the source by the BLM. His rage at the stupidity of being banned from taking mud from what was effectively a backhoe trench through a giant man made scar along side a railroad track for “environmental” reasons would have been comical if it hadn’t been so scary. His love for and closeness to beautiful women was the envy and toast of we lesser men. It seems silly in a way, that one of my most cherished memories of Pepe was merely hearing his voice on my answering machine one day when I was really depressed. “HALLOOO JOAANN!! THIS IS PAEPE!!!!” Just hearing that coruscating, deeply alive voice on a machine was enough to completely change my mood, sending me out into the world on an important day, a day I needed to be on my game. That’s what Pepe did for me, every time I saw him, which sadly in later years was not often. He reminded me how vital and vibrant life was if you chose to live it.