Jesse Treviño, one of America’s premier Latino artists, passed away on February 13, 2023 in San Antonio, Texas. He was 76 years old. Treviño had been ill for the past year following a surgery for cancer. His monumental tile mosaic sculptures and murals are among the city’s best known works of art. Several of his paintings of the Westside of San Antonio were selected to be included in the collections of the Smithsonian
American Art Museum and San Antonio Museum of Art during the 1990s, making him among the first Latino artists to receive such prestigious recognition.
Treviño’s artwork also has a
personal narrative. Treviño included himself in the “The New Chapa Lion,” a mural depicting a family of lions that he attributed to the famed pharmacy, Chapa Drugs, which in the early 1900s had a large lion painted on the sidewall of the pharmacy. I argue that this mural is also a personal statement–Treviño had the heart of a lion, he was a fighter, he was brave, and he was proud and protective of his Chicano community.
Anthony Head’s biography, Spirit: The Life and Art of Jesse Treviño, best tells the Treviño story. Head described Treviño’s Vietnam service and his return after being wounded from the war as the beginning of a tortured experience extending from many months to many years. Head wrote: “Under heavy fire, Treviño sustained life-threatening injuries.” Treviño’s injuries were devastating. He seriously injured his right arm, which was his painting arm, and his right hand. Eventually his arm was amputated below the elbow, but Head wrote, “Jesse had already started training himself to live left-handed—especially as an artist.” Few major painters in history have had to overcome greater physical challenges than Jesse Treviño.
Treviño painted and created murals for more than fifty years and is considered one of the great art treasures of Texas. Among his best known works is a huge mosaic tile mural, the “Spirit of Healing,” a masterpiece constructed on nine floors of the hospital which is one of the most visible murals in Texas. The mural is a mammoth 93 by 43 foot wall that required thousands of small pieces of tile of 70 different colors. At its completion, the art piece was reputed to be the largest ceramic mural in America.
Jesse Treviño has left San Antonio and beyond a bountiful archive of artistic creations that promote positive images of the Chicano community. Treviño’s determination and success in overcoming devastating life experiences establish him as an heroic model for future generations.