Thursday, December 7, 2023

Remembering Mexican Artist and War Veteran Jesse Treviño

Mexican artist and Vietnam War veteran Jesse Treviño died on February 13 in San Antonio at 76. Treviño lost his right arm in a land mine explosion as a soldier in the Vietnam War. Still, he later went on to conjure vast murals and dramatic paintings displayed in three presidential libraries and the Smithsonian Institution.

Treviño became famous in San Antonio for his photorealistic style in his large-scale paintings depicting the complex realities and soaring aspirations of the Chicano culture of his home city.

The author of the 2019 book “Spirit: The Life and Art of Jesse Treviño,” Anthony Head, says Treviño’s muse and canvas were San Antonio. “The Hispanic population on the West Side, and the artists from there, had never been seen in museums and galleries before, so he set out to do just that.”

After his death, Mayor Ron Nirenberg of San Antonio referred to Mr. Treviño as “an American hero” on Twitter. Texas Monthly magazine called “Señora Dolores Treviño,” a painting of his mother, “one of the best paintings of an artist’s mother since Whistler’s.”

Treviño’s work, however, spread beyond his home state. In 1987, he presented a painting of the Alamo to President Ronald Reagan in the Oval Office. In 1998, Hillary Clinton, then the first lady, invited him to an international exhibition in Santiago, Chile, as the American artist representative. His work is in the collections of the presidential libraries of Lyndon B. Johnson, George H.W. Bush, and Reagan.

Jesus Treviño was born in Monterrey, Mexico on Dec. 24, 1946. He is the ninth of twelve children of Juan Treviño, a mechanic and truck driver, and Dolores Treviño, a homemaker. He adopted the name “Jesse” when he entered elementary school.

The family moved to San Antonio when he was 4, and two years later, his drawing of a dove won a contest sponsored by the Witte Museum in San Antonio. He continued to take home art prizes throughout high school and earned a scholarship to the Art Students League of New York. He was studying there when he got his draft notice in 1966.

While on a mission in the Mekong Delta in Vietnam in 1967, Treviño stepped on a landmine, and the blast sent shrapnel through his torso and limbs. He was admitted to a military hospital at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, and his right arm was amputated below the elbow.

At first, Treviño had no interest in painting, as he thought he was being punished: “I thought God gave me all this ability to paint and all that. Now I can’t do anything.”

Eventually, a fellow soldier, Armando Albarran, began goading Treviño to reclaim his artistic talent, even without the use of his right hand.

He is survived by his children from several marriages, Carolina Treviño, Jessica Treviño Brodman, and Jesse and David Treviño; a stepdaughter, Joanna Deleon Colonna; two grandchildren; a sister, Alicia Treviño Rodriguez; and his brothers, Ramiro and John, Robert, and Ernest.

New York Times