Beloved San Antonio artist dies at 76

Remembering Jesse Treviño, notable Chicano artist

Amber Serio, Contributor

Jesse Treviño, the beloved and acclaimed Mexican-American artist of San Antonio, passed away on Feb. 13 at 76 years old. Treviño was receiving hospice care before his passing, but his cause of death has not been confirmed. Treviño was a prominent figure in San Antonio for decades, as his art embodies the Chicano spirit of San Antonio. His paintings and murals are distinguished by their photorealistic nature, which evokes the daily ups and downs that Mexican Americans endure.   

Born in Monterrey, Mexico, in 1946, Treviño and his family migrated to San Antonio when he was four years old. He began showcasing his natural talent from a young age by winning school art competitions and prizes throughout his adolescence. This artistic drive resulted in Treviño being awarded a scholarship to attend the Art Students League of New York. It was while he was studying here that he received his Vietnam War draft notice in 1966. 

In February of 1967, Treviño was severely injured on a mission in the Mekong Delta when he stepped on a mine while attempting to board a helicopter that was under attack. This incident caused the loss of Treviño’s dominant right arm, as it was amputated due to being paralyzed by severed nerves. 

Despite losing mobility in his dominant arm, Treviño did not let this stop him from pursuing his passion as an artist. He was ultimately forced to change everything he had learned about art. At first, this was challenging for Treviño, as he developed depression and had to come to terms with being physically disadvantaged. He spent about a year in rehabilitation before he began adapting to using his left arm so that he could continue to evoke his artistic talent in the world. 

After becoming comfortable with his skills, Treviño enrolled in San Antonio College and then finished his bachelor’s degree in art at Our Lady of the Lake University. He later decided to pursue his master’s degree and attended graduate school at UTSA, where he finished his education

Throughout his career, Treviño had a tremendous amount of worldwide recognition and notable art pieces. For instance, he presented a painting of the Alamo to President Ronald Reagan in 1987. Additionally, one of his most recognized pieces, “Mi Vida,” was presented in an exhibition at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in 2019. This 14-by-eight-foot mural was painted in 1972 while Treviño was battling depression and defeat after enduring severe injuries from serving in the Vietnam War. “Mi Vida” serves as an autobiographical mural that is a reflection of Treviño’s identity and struggles during this time. The painting contains an array of objects, such as a Purple Heart medal, a pill, a can of Budweiser beer, a pack of cigarettes and an image of Treviño during the war. 

Despite the fact that Treviño is recognized globally, it is almost impossible to deny that the heart of his ambitions and most well-known art lies within the city of San Antonio. His mural, “Spirit of Healing,” is a prime example of him channeling the city and its Chicano culture into his work. This mural, which stands nine stories tall and depicts an image of a boy holding a dove as an angel watches over him, is made from hand-cut tiles that decorate the outside of the Children’s Hospital of San Antonio. 

Treviño’s “La Veladora” is another instance of him utilizing his artistic talents to bring the Mexican-American culture in San Antonio to life, as it illustrates an image of a votive candle displaying the Virgin of Guadalupe. This three-dimensional piece of art stands 40 feet tall and is displayed on the side of the Guadalupe Theatre. 

Treviño has truly left a lasting mark on San Antonio and the way we choose to acknowledge and celebrate the Chicano culture that is so deeply rooted within the city. With his impact on the city and Mexican-American representation, it is evident that, even after his death, his legacy will continue to live on. To view his artwork, visit or follow his Instagram @jessetrevinoart.