Not many artists can claim that they are a president’s favorite painter. Porfirio Salinas (1910-1973), however, has earned that recognition for his honest, scenic landscape paintings of the captivating Texas Hill Country.
Born on a farm near Bastrop, Texas, Salinas was one of seven children born to Mexican-American parents, Porfirio G. Salinas and Clara G. Chavez Salinas. Very soon after Salinas was born, the family moved to San Antonio, the city that would be Salinas’ home and inspiration for the rest of his life. In San Antonio, Salinas started drawing at an early age, beginning with sketches he would create on the blackboards in elementary school. Encouraged by his teachers to work hard at developing his talent, Salinas spent all his free time making sketches and painting pictures of the scenery near his home.
Soon, Salinas quit school and found work at an art supply store, where he later met the artist Robert Wood. After realizing Salinas’ young talent, Wood hired him as an assistant in his studio, where Salinas learned the fundamentals of becoming a professional painter. By the young age of 20, Salinas, completely self-taught, became a professional artist, mostly selling his bluebonnet landscapes to tourists that visited the city.
During the next few decades, Salinas became a dedicated painter of several Texas landscapes. He had the unique ability to beautifully display distance in his landscapes, producing several paintings of never-ending scenery. When asked why his paintings were often repetitive, Salinas replied, “I stay awake when I paint, and I paint only what I see;” and, what Salinas saw was the raw, honest beauty of the Texas Hill Country. The rolling hills, vibrant bluebonnets, sprawling Texas skies, rustic oak trees, mesquite, buffalo grass and caliche dirt became the hallmarks of his landscapes. He painted the world along the San Antonio, Guadalupe and Rio Grande rivers as he saw it, refusing to add or subtract from nature. Salinas wanted to present Texas as honestly as the human eye saw it with great dignity and truth in color.
The beauty of Texas in Salinas’ paintings soon came to the attention of Lady Bird Johnson. She commissioned Salinas to paint landscapes of her Texas ranch and areas around the Pedernales River to give to then Senator Lyndon B. Johnson. Senator Johnson himself began to collect several of Salinas’ works, and upon his ascension to the presidency, hung several of his paintings in the White House. Now, Salinas’ works are displayed at the Witte Museum, the Texas Governor’s Mansion, the Texas State Capital, and numerous private Early Texas art collections.
Salinas spent the end of his life just like the beginning of it, living in and painting San Antonio and the Hill Country. His landscapes managed to put on canvas the essence of Texas, not just the oak trees, bluebonnets, rivers and cacti, but the very light and atmosphere of the Lone Star State. As Lady Bird Johnson said about his landscapes, “I want to see them whenever I open the door, to remind me where I come from,” Salinas’ honest depictions of the Texas Hill Country remind those who see his paintings of the true, realistic beauty of Texas.