Jesse Trevino: An Inspirational Art Hero
The National Hispanic Hall of Fame honored local artist Jesse Trevino on May 5th, 2021 with its annual Lifetime Achievement Award.
Trevino, recognized for his brilliance in the arts, joins other Texas distinguished leaders in receiving this prestigious award, including the Honorable Henry Cisneros, General Alfred Valenuela, and Lionel Sosa. Raul Zuniga and Noe Medina, the organization’s top leaders, announced their selection recently and noted that a ceremony is being postponed until 2022 because of the Covid pandemic.
Jesse Trevino, one of America’s premier Latino artists, grew up in the Westside San Antonio neighborhood called Prospect Hill. His family of eleven brothers and sisters lived in a modest home on Monterey Street. His dad, Juan Trevino, immigrated from Monterrey, Mexico to the United States in the late 1920s.
Juan Trevino drove trucks and repaired cars for a living. He was working as a mechanic in San Antonio when he first met his future wife Dolores in the nearby city of New Braunfels. Following their marriage in the mid
1930s, they moved to Monterrey, Mexico where most of the Trevino’s eleven children, including Jesse were born.
The Trevino family moved back to San Antonio in the 1950s and bought a house on Monterey Street, two blocks from Henry Cisneros’ home. Jesse Trevino’s interest in art and design led him to Fox Tech where his older brothers had attended. In his early years of art training at Fox Tech High School, Trevino found inspiration in the American portrait tradition.
During his first year at Fox Tech High School, Trevino painted a portrait of Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson that he titled simply “LBJ” (1962). Trevino’s biographer, Anthony Head noted that Trevino found inspiration in the work of portrait artist Norman Rockwell.
Finishing high school in 1965, Jesse headed East to the prestigious Art Students League of New York on a scholarship. His mentors and teachers were some of America’s finest portrait painters, and he studied alongside some of the brightest young artists in the nation.
In the 1960s New York was considered among the top three places in the world to pursue the study and practice of art. Trevino’s stay in New York lasted less than a year, ending when he was drafted into the United States Armed Services.
Anthony Head, whose biography, Spirit: The Life and Art of Jesse Trevino, best tells the Trevino story. He described Trevino’s Vietnam service and his return from the war as the beginning of a tortured experience extending from many months to many years. Head wrote: “Under heavy fire, Trevino sustained life-threatening injuries including to his right arm, which he painted with.”
Eventually, that arm was amputated below the elbow, but “Jesse had already started training himself to live left-handed—especially as an artist.”
In 1977 Trevino painted the well-known drugstore “Progreso” as part of his Westside series, which included
several other acrylic paintings from that period. His best known paintings of that era include; “Raspa Man,” “La Cita Lounge,” and “Liria’s Lounge”. The “Progreso” painting was purchased by public relations guru Lionel
Sosa in the 1980s and is part of Lionel and Kathy Sosa’s private collection.
In the late 1970s Trevino was interviewed by Patricia Elizondo, a local television reporter, who asked him what artistic goals he had for the future. Trevino noted that he loved to put a mosaic mural on the Santa Rosa Hospital wall facing the old Mexican park.
When the hospital hired Elizondo as a communication specialist, she mentioned Trevino’s mural aspiration to Santa Rosa’s CEO and other executives. Trevino always loved monumental art and proposed painting a mural on the entire nine story Santa Rosa hospital wall facing south which could be viewed from the elevated I-35 Highway. In an interview recently, Trevino credited Elizondo for introducing and pushing the idea for what would be the grand “Spirit of Healing” mural.
Trevino’s Spirit of Healing mural is a gigantic 93 feet by 43 feet which 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. The mural depicts a young boy (his son) holding a dove under the watchful protection of a guardian angel.
Trevino is also known for his monumental art mosaic tribute to the Virgin Guadalupe, “Veladora,” located at the Guadalupe Cultural Community Center, considered the heart of the Westside. In 1999 the Texas Diabetes Institute near the corner of Guadalupe and Zarzamora commissioned Trevino to paint a rendition of a Mexican American healer which he titled “La Curandera.”
Trevino’s portraits of San Antonio’s Westside heroes including Congressman Henry B. Gonzales, community leader Ruben Munguia, and singer and dancer Rosita Fernandez. They are favorites among many collectors.
Trevino has been painting for more than fifty years and is considered one of Texas’ great living treasures. His life is an inspiration, especially to young people, who are challenged by difficult circumstances in their quest for achievement and success.
Copyright 2021. All photos copyrighted by Ricardo Romo.