Porfirio Salinas' career can be broken up into three phases. First, his early career, which dates roughtly from the late-1920s to about 1940; next, his mid career, which can be dated from 1940 to 1963; and his late career, which lasted from 1963 to his early death at the age of 63. As with most painters, the artistic evolution of Porfirio Salinas was gradual, so there is no solid line of demarcation between one phase of his career and another. But for the purposes of analysis, examining his life and artistic output – oeuvre to use a ten-dollar art historical term – in phases is helpful.

      Salinas was a precocious talent and he applied himself industriously to the study and practice of painting. He began working for the English-born painter Robert Wood (1889-1979) about 1924, probably in Wood's studio near the Alamo in downtown San Antonio. Salinas had the oportunity to watch Wood paint every day and to join Wood and Jose Arpa (1858-1952) in plein-air expeditions in San Antonio and to the Hill Country. The oft-told story that Wood paid the young Salinas to paint bluebonets is probably apocryphal; privatle he told friends and dealers that Wood was happy to paint his own bluebonnest and to be sure, the older painter continued to paint Texas lupin long after he had left San Antonio for California. Wood's paintings were, however, the single strongest influence on Salinas' early works, which often are painted with the softer, Hudson-River-tinged style so characteristic of the English painter's mid career. If we look at a Salinas painting of the 1930s, the trees, brushwork and composition are all influenced by Dow Art Gallery of Ft. Worth and Dr. Carlton Palmer, an Atlanta collector and art historian, who later became an agent for Salinas and Wood on his winter and spring trips to Texas.

"Hill Country Bluebonnets" Oil on Canvas (Private Collection)
This early Salinas is example of Wood's strong influence on his painting.
"Bluebonnets at Sunset" Oil on Canvas (Private Collection)
This is another early Salinas that is very reminiscent of a Robert Wood painting of the 1930s in approach, technique and subject matter.

      The other inescapable infuence on Salinas was Robert Julian Onderdonk (1882-1922). While Onderdonk died even before the young Mexican-American painter began to work studiously on his art, as the favorite son of San Antonio, loved and gone before his time, his influence was everywhere. It was Onderdonk who first popularized bluebonnet paintings; it was Onderdonk whose prints were sold on the Alamo Plaza. So the young Salinas not only painted some early works that were clearly influenced by Onderdonk's moodier and highly atmospheric style, he just would have absorbed a lot seeing the Onderdonks on view around San Antonio, which was a much smaller town in the 1920s than it is today.

      The famous "Davis Competitions" for wildflower painters generated enormous excitement in 1926, 1927 and 1928 and there is little doubt that the success of local painters like Jose Arpa and Dawson Dawson-Watson (1864-1939) also influenced Salinas' work. Arpa was the most respected painter in San Antonio in the late 1920s and the worldly and courtly Spanish gentleman would have made quite an impression on an aspiring artist in his teems, even if we don't see it as clearly as that of Robert Wood or Julian Onderdonk. Dawson-Watson, another English painter, made the humble cactus his own Texas subject and from time to time Salinas focused on this hardy plant, but we can also see cacti loom larger in the foreground, and serve as more if a focus, in Salinas' paintings than in those of some of his contemporaries.

"Bluebonnets at Sunrise" Oil on Canvas (Private Collection)
      In this moody work, the influence of Julian Onderdonk is immediately apparent. Onderdonk was an Impressionist whose works were alive with atmosphere. In this scene the young Porfirio Salinas has depicted his carpet of lupin with the mist and dew of the early morning hours, a favorite subject of the popular Onderdonk, whose premature death occurred when Salinas was a precocious teenage talent and just beginning to take his art seriously.

      The second phase of Salinas' career commenced with the beginning of his long association with Dewey Bradford of Austin, who turned the family paint store into a place where wealthy Texans, home-grown writers like J. Frank Dobie and figures from Texas political life rubbed elbows. The gladhanding Bradford promoted Salinas as a brilliant, local talent, but the relationship was often testy because of Salinas' problem with alcohol and the dealer's needling. Under Bradford's eye, though, Salinas' work reached artistic maturity. It became more straightforward, with less emphasis on soft brushwork. He began to depend on the road as a compositional device in many of his works. In Austin, Bradford began to sell Salinas paintings to major Texas politicians, including Sam Rayburn, the legendary Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, and Lyndon Baines Johnson, who moved from the House of Representatives to the Senate in the years after WWII.

      In spite of his sucess with Bradford, Salinas suffered a number of financial reversals in the late 1950s. He had fallow periods, and of course his problems were exacerbated by his struggles with alcohol. In the last phase of his career, though, he became nationally famous through his association with Vice President, then President, Johnson. As the local boy who made good, his prices rose and his paintings were in great demand. These works were similar in manner, theme and composition to his painting of the 1950s, but some of them could be rapidly executed, without the time the artist usually spent on his paintings. Salinas also painted some major works – 30" x 40" to 30" x 48" – in the last ten years of his career that may best represent the painter and his approach to the Texas landscape.

  "April in Texas" Oil on Canvas (Private Collection)  
            This is a painting that is typical of Porfirio Salinas' mature work. By the 1950s, he had shed the strong influence of Robert Wood's early style (1924-1946) and come into his own as a painter.      
"Rural Scene" Oil on Canvas (Private Collection)
            Salinas made frequent trips to Mexico and on his trips he took his pochade box and paints. He made small plein-air sketches of anything that interested him, from the humble dwellings and villages to the high Alpine peaks of central Mexico.