Jesse Treviño, an artist who changed the face of San Antonio, dies at 76
Jesus "Jesse" Treviño
The beloved local artist is best known for his vivid paintings of westside life and for landmark works of public art throughout the city. He aspired nearly every day of his life to be San Antonio's Artist, we will miss him more than words can convey.
-Read Jesse’s full obituary at Legacy.com
Pete Cortez says his father Jorge and Treviño were like brothers. His father was a businessman who loved the arts and culture of San Antonio, and Treviño played a part in realizing the Cortez family's dream of creating a cultural arts hub in El Mercado, or the Market Place, and all of the Zona Cultural.
Cortez says Treviño brought the importance of the arts in the San Antonio to the forefront for everybody.
"With his style of realism, it was just so amazing," Cortez says. "It's a great loss for San Antonio. It's a great loss for our country."
-Read more from MySA
Treviño was born in Mexico but moved to San Antonio with his family when he was just two years old. He grew up on the city’s West Side and took an early interest in art.
By the age of 6 Treviño had already won his first drawing contest, and by 18 he accepted a scholarship at a New York City art school. "Jackson Pollock went there, Georgia O'Keefe," he recalled in an interview with TPR.
In his free time, Treviño sketched tourists in Greenwich Village. By the mid-1960s, he considered moving to Paris to continue his art.
-Read more from Texas Public Radio
As a teen, Treviño landed a full scholarship to attend art school in New York. However, he was called up to serve in the Vietnam War and lost his painting hand to an explosion from a land mine.
Treviño learned to paint again with his left hand while attending San Antonio College and later at OLLU. He credited two Sisters from the Congregation of Divine Providence at the latter school for inspiring him to refine his skills.
“I didn’t have confidence,” Treviño said at OLLU in 2019. “They helped me regain it.”
-Read more from the San Antonio Current
Treviño lost a lot of blood, nearly lost his leg, and lost the use of his right arm. After he returned to the United States, he endured a series of operations to try to quell the constant pain in his injured arm, which he had used to paint. After three years, the arm was amputated, though the pain lingered for the rest of his life.
-Read more from the San Antonio Express-News
It took more than a year to recover from wounds on his legs, torso, and right arm, but he retrained himself to live and paint as a left-hander by the time his right arm was amputated below the elbow, in 1970.
Most crucially, he met art instructor and Chicano activist Mel Casas at San Antonio College, who emphasized choosing his subject matter for a purpose, which aligned perfectly with Jesse’s battlefield wish.
Along with Casas, César Martínez, Santos Martinez, and other pioneering Chicano artists, Jesse broke down barriers against Latinos by getting his art into galleries and museum shows, and he redefined how Texas art was perceived by the rest of the country. He accomplished both by putting the faces, buildings, cars, and trucks of his neighborhood on canvas. He documented the West Side in deep detail with photorealist paintings, and then he beautified it with murals celebrating Mexican American heritage and culture, San Antonio history, and some of the local people whose social contributions might have otherwise gone unnoticed.
Jesse’s art is everywhere in San Antonio—in cafes, churches, and businesses. San Antonio was his home, his muse, his inspiration, and his canvas. He made his projects to last, and he knew his art would be around for another hundred years.
-Read more from Texas Monthly
Visit Jesse Treviño's artwork throughout San Antonio with Texas Public Radio's map below: