The Maestros’ Pop-Up exhibit at St. Paul Square in downtown San Antonio features exciting Picasso-like paintings of San Antonio artist and retired Burbank High School art teacher Joe Luna. Curated by Bobby Bacon and Karen Evans, this is the second fine art gallery exhibition outside of the Luminaria Festival.
San Antonio artist Joe Luna has four fanciful paintings in the Luminaria show that stand out. In this article, Idiscuss his path to becoming an artist and feature additional work from his studio.
Pablo Picasso stands out as one of Luna’s greatest artistic influences. Luna brands himself as a creator of “Picasso Like Original Art.” Luna paints abstract canvasses that draw upon Picasso’s unique creative styles. For example, one Luna piece in the Luminaria exhibit, “Lady Moon,” features a colorful woman with quarter moon-shaped eyes standing with her circular multi-colored arms decorated with paint brushes. Behind her is a series of quarter moons embedded in colorful shapes and a window revealing a calm sea and bright orange clouds.
Joe Luna was born in Laredo, and his family moved to San Antonio when he was thirteen. He attended public school in the early 1950s when Spanish-speaking students were expected to repeat the first and sometimes the second grade on the false assumption they lacked adequate language skills.
Luna generously acknowledges the positive impact early teachers had on his art training. In his biography, he provides the names of his elementary, middle, and high school teachers crediting them with giving him the instruction and encouragement that led him to become an artist and eventually an art teacher. His art skills and leadership grew as he progressed through school. As an elementary student, he was given principal responsibility for the class bulletin board. He won 1st place in poster competitions in middle school.
In the 1950s-1960s, Lanier and Fox Tech high schools offered the city’s best art programs specializing in commercial art. Jose Esquivel, an original Con Safo art group member, graduated from Fox Tech in the early 1950s and Lionel Sosa, a successful portrait artist, finished at Lanier in the late 1950s. This was a difficult era when fewer than five percent of Latino high school graduates attended college. When Luna graduated from
Fox Tech in 1966, he set a goal to study art in college and become an art teacher like his early role models.
The term Luna uses for star art performers is “a Michelangelo.” In his lifetime, he remembers he has met two “Michelangelo,” Jesse Trevino and Vincent Valdez. Luna enrolled in the same classes as Jesse Trevino at Fox Tech. Luna and his classmates marveled at Trevino’s drawings and paintings and recognized that Trevino had a bright future ahead of him. After three years of art classes at Fox Tech with Ms. Katherine Alsup, Luna gained confidence in his own unique style and won a dozen statewide art competitions.
Ms. Alsup inspired Luna. He wanted to be a teacher like her and teach at Fox Tech High School. Luna’s First Place Blue Ribbons in state art competitions won him a scholarship to the Art Academy in Washington, D.C. The scholarship paid for tuition, but not all other expenses, which forced him to turn down the offer.
Luna developed a plan after high school graduation to earn an art degree and one day return to Fox Tech High School to teach commercial art. With the art portfolio he had prepared for the Art Academy, he applied for a commercial art job at Frost Bros., an exclusive clothing store in San Antonio. Luna was hired to handle the window displays.
At Frost Bros., Luna worked alongside former Burbank art student, Armando Sanchez, a well-known San Antonio artist. Luna’s supervisors allowed him to work and attend community college at night. Over the next five years, Luna completed an Associate Degree at San Antonio College and a Bachelor of Arts Degree from Our Lady of the Lake University.
Luna began teaching art at Burbank High School a few years after earning his college degree. During his 31 years as an art teacher at Burbank, he mentored hundreds of students, including one “Michelangelo”– Vincent Valdez. When Valdez enrolled in his art class, Luna quickly recognized an immense talent and arranged for the young artist to paint a mural in the school cafeteria. Valdez’s painting was recently preserved in a digital format allowing the school to reconstruct his older painting on the wall of the new cafeteria. Luna is supremely proud of Valdez, and over the years, he has bought nearly a dozen drawings and prints by Valdez.
Luminaria’s Maestros’ Pop-Up exhibit at St. Paul Square is a new art venture for Executive Director Yadhira Lozano. The arts organization is known for its annual festival that draws artists from across the state and several major U.S. cities. Last year’s festival featured over 200 individual artists creating fine art, film, poetry, large art installations, digital art, and live music. Artists came from New York City, Mexico City, and 15 countries.
Luminaria emerged from the 2020-21 pandemic determined to reach San Antonio’s growing communities. In the post-pandemic years, the city’s cultural audiences have requested more Luminaria events and year-round cultural activities. San Antonio City Councilwoman Phyllis Viagran commented, “Luminaria highlights the rich cultural heritage of San Antonio and pushes the boundaries of artistic innovation.”
The Maestros exhibit is an effort to expand
Luminaria’s art and cultural programming. Lozano believes that art heals and enriches people’s lives. The organization promotes the idea that the arts can also be an engine for economic development. She is working with businesses in St. Paul Square to increase tourism. The Square is a few hundred yards from the popular Alamodome, an indoor stadium with 65,000 seats and the home field for the University of Texas San Antonio football team, and can draw large audiences to Luminaria events.
Luminaria is celebrating its 16th year of elevating the arts and meeting its goal of enriching San Antonio by making the city a global arts destination. Luminaria remains committed to opening opportunities for all artists, especially those from underrepresented communities.