Jesse Treviño, the renowned San Antonio artist whose work centered Chicano icons and culture, died Monday, February 13, 2023 at the age of 76.
Born on December 24, 1946 in Monterrey, Mexico, Mr. Treviño came with his family to the United States and settled in San Antonio’s West Side when he was about four years old. As a young man, Mr. Treviño received a full scholarship to study art at the Art Students League of New York. His time there was cut short when he was drafted in the army to serve in the Vietnam War. Mr. Treviño returned home from Vietnam after being injured in a land mine explosion, which left him with extensive nerve damage. This injury ultimately led to the amputation of his right arm in November 1970.
In 2010, he spoke about his wartime injury to the University of Texas San Antonio’s (UTSA) publication Sombrilla. He recalled that as he lay injured he “started thinking about the guy who sells raspas, and I said to myself, ‘I bet I could make a great painting of him,’ and I started thinking about all the paintings that I had done as a kid and still wanted to do. Here I was in the middle of this rice field, and I was thinking as an artist.”
Following his recovery, Mr. Treviño enrolled in San Antonio College, where he learned to paint using his left hand. In 2019, Glasstire contributor Ruben Cordova wrote about Mr. Treviño’s autobiographical mural Mi Vida, which he began painting in 1971. The mural references his wartime experiences and recovery. Mr. Treviño went on to receive a BA in art from Our Lady of the Lake University (OLLU) and an MFA in painting from UTSA (1978). In 1987, he received the National Hispanic Heritage Award of Artist of the Year, and in 2021 he was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Hispanic Hall of Fame.
Abel A. Chávez, President of OLLU, said in a statement, “Jesse Treviño was a beloved artist and friend to OLLU whose legacy reaches around the world. He achieved fame and success but never forgot his West Side roots. OLLU is incredibly proud to count him among our alumni. He will be greatly missed.”
Perhaps best known for his iconic La Veladora of Our Lady of Guadalupe, a three-dimensional mosaic at the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center, Mr. Treviño has multiple murals throughout the city of San Antonio, and his work is in prominent collections across the United States. Another beloved and monumental work is The Spirit of Healing, a 93-foot-tall mural on the side of the Christus Santa Rosa Children’s Hospital, completed in 1997. Mr. Treviño has three works in the Smithsonian Institute’s collection, including a 1980 print and two large-scale paintings created in 1976 and 1993.
Discussing Mr. Treviño’s significance and legacy, Ruben Cordova told Glasstire, “Jesse Treviño was far and away the most famous artist San Antonio ever produced. His renown greatly transcended the art world: he was the hometown hero par excellence. At the same time, Treviño was an important role model for Chicano artists, from the self-taught artist Adan Hernandez (who quit his day job when he saw Treviño’s paintings) to RISD alumnus Vincent Valdez (who kept a scrapbook of articles about Treviño when he was a child).”
Shortly after Mr. Treviño’s death, San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg tweeted about the artist, remarking that his “kindness and courage will live forever in our hearts, as will his works of art that are now icons across the landscape.”
He also added, “Jesse Treviño was an American hero. The wounds of the Vietnam war, which took so many of his friends and neighbors from the Westside of San Antonio, never left him, but he used those scars to bring healing to millions of people.”
Jesse was one of the artists I was fortunate to have supported in an exhibit in what was then the art gallery at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi in the 1970’s. He was a serious, committed and talented individual who was part of an evolving movement that continues to find its place in United States fine art history.
The exhibit was a huge success with students but unfortunately somewhat missed by the local art community. It was important that it happened, for sure.