Larry Portillo grew up in New Mexico and moved to San Antonio in the late 1990s. As a young child, his attraction to artistic creations led him to teach himself to paint. Portillo spent his teens and young adult years learning new artistic techniques and original approaches to drawing and painting. His first major art break came in 1991 when Leo Tanguma, a Colorado artist, hired him to assist in painting a mural in the New Mexico Art Museum in Santa Fe. The mural project gave Portillo added confidence in his artistic ability, and he learned from Tanguma, a seasoned muralist, how to paint larger-than-life portraits.
Over the next five years, Portillo accepted invitations to exhibit in numerous El Paso art galleries. In the mid-1990s he earned a commission to paint a mural in his hometown’s San Luis Church in Chamberino, New Mexico. At the end of 1997, Portillo and his wife Maria Elena decided to move to San Antonio, a larger city that offered expanded art opportunities. In San Antonio, he had the good fortune of meeting Joe Lopez, a highly accomplished artist and owner of Gallista Gallery. Lopez recognized Portillo’s talents and gave the emerging arist his first solo exhibit.
Art collectors are drawn to Portillo’s work because of his excellent layering of basic colors. His paintings glow with reds, blues, and yellows. His paintings are all the more remarkable because he is largely self-taught. It is obvious though that he has studied great paintings. Portillo acknowledges that few artists have inspired him more than Vincent Van Gogh.
In several of his works, Portillo has painted a Southwestern version of what could be considered the famed sky of Van Gogh’s stunning “Starry Night. ” Portillo often applies thick swirls or layers of paint similar to Van Gogh. The painting “Los Flying Tacos” includes a truck the color of a bright green nopal parked under a brilliant blue starry sky.
St. Philip’s College has selected Larry Portillo as the artist to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month with a solo exhibition of his work opening on Diez Seis de Septiembre [September 16] celebration. A painting not to miss at St. Philip’s College Hispanic Month exhibit is his vibrant San Antonio “Riverwalk” where the reds of the restaurant buildings and sidewalk umbrellas appear adjacent to a majestic blue river. In his Riverwalk painting, Portillo creates a grey-blue sky with no stars, but he manages to add several tall trees that have twisted branches similar to Van Gogh’s cypress paintings.
Portillo is a highly talented artist with creative ideas and a Texas-size imagination. His paintings in the St. Philip’s exhibit celebrate the many sparkling sites of San Antonio and capture the culture of the US-Mexico Borderlands.