Six months ago, legendary San Antonio artist Jesse Treviño was in what his assistant Gabriel Velasquez described as one of the most prolific periods of his artistic life.

On Wednesday, Treviño was recovering in a Houston hospital after undergoing a complicated 15-hour surgery to remove a cancerous tumor.

Members of Treviño’s family invited the community to a prayer vigil Wednesday night in the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center plaza under the artist’s La Virgen de Guadalupe Veladora mosaic mural, considered a gateway to the West Side.

A Facebook post by niece Claudia Treviño Garcia received scores of prayers from members of the community. She invited anyone unable to attend the vigil in person to “pray for his speedy recovery from wherever you are.”

Among the attendees was Jose Gallegos Jr., a high school friend of Treviño’s who offered an update on his condition.

“Jesse is recovering and he is very weak. He was able to make some small movement, so that’s a positive indication that he will prevail and that he will recover, Gallegos said. “When you go home to your families, continue to pray the rosary for Jesse’s recovering and his healing.”

In 2019, Treviño traveled with Velasquez to Washington, D.C. to speak about his work at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, which featured his early mural Mi Vida in an exhibition about art and the Vietnam War. Treviño served in Vietnam and lost his painting hand after suffering a gruesome injury.

The determination he showed in relearning to be an artist with his non-dominant hand came into play during his latest battle with cancer, Velasquez said.

“Again, this is him against the world,” Velasquez said.

Jesse Treviño poses for a portrait at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C. on March 14 2019.
Jesse Treviño poses for a portrait at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C. in 2019. Credit: Ting Shen for the San Antonio Report

Treviño had beaten cancer a decade ago and remained active making art and planning large-scale projects for the Alameda Theater restoration and a Hispanic veterans memorial to one day be installed in Elmendorf Lake Park. As those more complicated projects progressed slowly, Treviño returned to an older style of fine drawing, fulfilling portrait commissions of family members.

Velasquez said the news of the cancer’s return six months ago hit Treviño hard. The artist described it as an “impossible situation,” Velasquez said, referring in part to the complexity of the necessary surgery.

Treviño told him if the doctors pull it off, they’ve “done the impossible.” And indeed, the surgery at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center in Houston was successful. Trevinõ is now in what Velasquez described as “a sensitive situation” and faces a long period of recovery.

However, Velasquez said prior to surgery Treviño showed the attitude that has marked his long career. “He told me that that he was going to do this, he was going to beat this thing, and that it wasn’t going to get him.”

Photojournalist Nick Wagner contributed to this story.

Nicholas Frank

Nicholas Frank moved from Milwaukee to San Antonio following a 2017 Artpace residency. Prior to that he taught college fine arts, curated a university contemporary art program, toured with an indie rock...