Albino Hinojosa’s studio sits in a small cottage behind his house on the outskirts of Ruston, only a few hundred feet from busy Interstate 20. Yet this spacious room is more than a place for painting. It is a refuge and personal space filled with memories, stacks of art books and magazines, ears of dried corn, duck decoys and antique toys that line the walls and tabletops like eager actors awaiting their curtain calls. Completed paintings for an upcoming show lean against a wall, and a large canvas with a half-completed painting of a meadow and an aging farmhouse sits on an easel in a flood of warm light filling the room from a rear window.
Hinojosa (pronounced He-no-hosa) is an exceptional modern realist painter who explores through his art the landscape of North Louisiana and memories of his childhood. Objects in his paintings are extraordinarily detailed. Although art critics often use words such as “trompe l’oeil” (French for “to fool the eye”), “hyper-realistic” and even “photographic” to describe his work, Hinojosa says he is not simply painting what he sees but how he feels about objects and places.
“I’m painting with emotions inside me,” he explains. “Everything I paint exists. It’s a composite of what exists. It’s got to have some connection with my past and my present. It’s honest, and [there is] nothing fake about this. It’s a false realism to copy a photograph. It looks like a photograph. The camera distorts an image. I want my paintings to look like a painting. I want you to see the paint and the brush strokes.”
Good design and composition, says the nationally acclaimed realist artist, are important elements in painting. “If you don’t have that,” he says, “your painting will be weak and unattractive. It’s not what you paint but how you paint it.” To that end, Hinojosa builds his compositions methodically. For still lifes, he selects and carefully arranges toys and other objects that he has collected over the years. Each object has meaning, and each composition tells a story. Even his landscapes, which often call to mind the paintings of Andrew Wyeth, are composites of impressions and bits of visual information such as cloud formations, abandoned farmhouses or the decayed brick storefronts in “modern ghost towns” that he photographed as he traveled the back roads of North Louisiana. They appear like memories of old homesteads in North Louisiana and those so familiar to his childhood. When he talks about abstraction in his paintings, he means those intangible elements that help a painting transcend from a mere picture to art, something that evokes an emotion in viewers.
In a 2012 catalog accompanying a 40-year retrospective of Hinojosa’s career, Roy V. de Ville, an art professor at LSU – Alexandria, described Hinojosa as a realist painter who “exalts” the ordinary. “Hinojosa’s landscapes,” wrote de Ville, “hearken back to a quieter time when life was simple if not predictable. The presence of light on the land, whether in the heat of the day or in the silence of twilight, produces a quality of suspended time. The landscape is familiar to us, whether we know the place or not, giving us a microcosm of our own memory.” As to his still life paintings, de Ville continued: “Hinojosa imbues inanimate objects with life and energy. Simple foods, flowers, and everyday objects become the treasures of our past.”
Born in 1943 in the small East Texas town of Atlanta, Hinojosa has come a long way from his childhood growing up in nearby Kildare, Texas, where his parents, Vidal and Emilia, “scrounged out a living” as tenant farmers and doing menial odd jobs to support five children. As a child, his interest in art focused primarily on whittling toy guns from scrap wood. His family was too poor to purchase paints and brushes. Several of those toy guns, which look like real weapons at a distance, hang from his studio wall. After high school, he received a track and art scholarship at Texarkana College, where he studied with the noted Texas realist painter Otis Lumpkin. (Track was important in Hinojosa’s young life. In high school, he could often be seen running the 10 miles between Kildare and Linden.) After receiving an associate’s degree at Texarkana, he went on to study art at East Texas State University, now Texas A&M – Commerce. With a bachelor’s degree in commercial art, he spent the next five years as a technical illustrator for a company in Greenville, Texas.
In 1971 Hinojosa, now with a wife and child, entered the academic world as an art instructor at Northeast Louisiana University, now the University of Louisiana – Monroe. A year later, at his department chair’s urging, he met with the head of the art department at Louisiana Tech University in Ruston with the idea of entering graduate school to get a master’s degree. The department head, impressed with Hinojosa’s paintings and drawings, offered him not only a spot in graduate school but also a job teaching commercial art. Hinojosa took the job, got his master’s degree and went on to teach at Louisiana Tech for the next 28 years. “I always wanted to be an art teacher,” he says. “We were very poor, and I said if I ever [went] to college, I would be an art teacher to fill the void in high schools that didn’t offer art classes.”
Hinojosa learned an important lesson early in his career. “The best advice I ever got,” he recalls, “was to surround myself with the best. I wanted to meet great artists like Otis Lumpkin. I once met [famed magazine illustrator and Western artist] Tom Lovell at a show in Oklahoma City. He invited me to his home and studio in Santa Fe. I sat in front of his painting. When they share things like that, they inspire you to go on. I study the works of other artists to learn from them.”
Since retiring from Louisiana Tech in 2000, Hinojosa has continued his career in art – and an impressive career it has been. Since the early 1970s, the amiable Texas transplant has participated in scores of one-artist and group shows and his paintings have received numerous honors. His many awards include the Best of Show Award for his painting Still Life with Peaches at the 2004 National Acrylic Painters Association juried show in San Pedro, Calif. Hinojosa’s work can be found in numerous private and public collections, including, among others, the Louisiana Art & Science Museum in Baton Rouge, the R.W. Norton Museum of Art in Shreveport, the Longview (Texas) Museum of Fine Art, the Tyler (Texas) Museum of Art, the Masur Museum of Art in Monroe and the Museum of American Illustration in New York City. His painting Broken Shears was featured in the large and prestigious book 200 Years of American Illustration, published in 1977 by Random House.
Whether painting landscapes or still lifes, Hinojosa’s paintings are in a sense autobiographical. “Painting,” he says, “gives me so much joy. I’m trying to make a statement about myself as a human being. They reflect who I am, where I came from.”