MURILLO, JESÚS (1895–1971). Jesús Murillo, photographer and artist, one of six children of Ambrosio and Antonia (Urbina) Murillo, was born in 1895 in Morelia, Michoacán, Mexico. His father was a leatherworker, and his mother came from a family of renowned local artists. Jesús learned to sketch as a young boy and at age twelve was apprenticed to a local architect, from whom he learned drafting. At eighteen he went to work for a local photographer, who taught him the skills that became his trade. In 1916, because of revolutionary turmoil in Mexico and in search of greater economic opportunities, Murillo moved to Laredo and worked for several different photography studios in the city. Beginning in 1917 he worked as a retoucher for Fox Studios in both San Antonio and Waco and earned additional income as a portrait painter. He married Jesusita Casárez of Galveston in 1918, and they had six boys and five girls. In 1920 the family moved to Houston, where Murillo worked at the Shirley Studio for a few months, until the family saved enough money to return to Morelia. They maintained correspondence with Frank Shirley over the next two years, and upon Shirley's insistence Murillo moved his family back to Houston in 1923. After Shirley's death in 1927 Murillo opened his own studio, Murillo Studio, in downtown Houston. He also did film retouching and portrait oil painting for the Gray Studio.
As a hobby, he took his camera outdoors and photographed the growing city. His architectural training probably influenced him to document the construction of new office and commercial buildings. He also painted in his free time, mostly in watercolor and ink, and drew portraits of his children or familiar scenes from the community. Some of his paintings depicted the Madonna and Christ Child. He also painted Gulf Coast landscapes. Two of his most significant works are Our Hercules and Depression: the first is a tribute to Houston businessman Jesse H. Jones, which he personally presented to Jones; the latter depicts a large toothless creature clutching a small child, symbolically representing the effects of the Great Depression on the struggling Mexican-American community.
In 1930 the family moved to Galveston, where Murillo operated his studio at various locations. He continued photographing people and cityscapes as well as painting until his death. During his lifetime Murillo sold only his commercial work, the photographs taken in his studio or commissioned by patrons. His documentary photographs of Houston and Galveston and his paintings remained within the family or were given to friends. Much of his work was destroyed over the years by hurricane floods. After his death many of his photographs were donated to the Houston Metropolitan Research Center of the Houston Public Library.qqv Most of his paintings remain in the private collection of the Murillo family. Jesús Murillo died in October 1971 in Galveston.
Thomas H. Kreneck, "Jesús Murillo: Social Artist for the Houston-Galveston Region," Houston Review 5 (Summer 1983). Thomas H. Kreneck, "With the Eye of an Artist: Jesús Murillo's Houston, 1927–1933," Revista Chicano-Riqueña 8 (Summer 1980). Murillo Collection, Houston Metropolitan Research Center, Houston Public Library.