The world of David Tineo, a Tucson muralist whose works are spread across the city, has grown dim.

His friend and mentor Albert Soto, a supporter of public art, died last week. Tineo is devastated by the loss. But his world is literally going dark.

This painter is losing his eyesight.

"It's like seeing through a dim camera," said Tineo, 50.

Tineo raced to Soto's hospital bed to say adios before the 51-year-old Soto died two days after he suffered a stroke on Thanksgiving day.

"I told him, 'Que vaya con un angel,' " Tineo said.

Go with an angel, he told Soto, who was well known among local theater fans for his portrayal of Lucifer in "A Tucson Pastorela," the annual Christmas play produced by Borderlands Theater.

Soto was also admired for his unfettered support for public art and art education, Tucson's Chicano and Latino artists and culture, and civil rights for ethnic minorities and gay and lesbians.

Soto touched a lot of people, like Tineo, whom Soto befriended and encouraged to pursue his artistic vision.

Now Tineo will have to rely on Soto in a different way.

Early last month a doctor at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center diagnosed Tineo with macular degeneration, which produces a slow or sudden loss of vision. The doctor wrote that Tineo is legally blind.

Tineo, who has completed more than 200 murals and more than 1,000 paintings in bold impressions and colors, is painting less.

"I can't paint much more. It's becoming more difficult," he said. "In a year I may be completely blind."

I'm crushed. I've known David since we attended Cholla High School where he ran track and cross country, and drew and sculpted.

In a studio behind his mother's Menlo Park house there are several paintings of goddesses and Mexican mythology. Rivulets of dry paint in nearly every color are streaked across the floor.

A single shadeless lamp lit the room. The bulb's bright glow was fuzzy in Tineo's eyes.

The father of two is learning to do things differently.

Family members are helping him to make the transition. Friends in local government are helping expedite benefits to the Army veteran.

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His painted his first mural in 1976, two years out of high school, at El Rio Neighborhood Center on West Speedway.

Tineo's work is derived from the classic Mexican muralists and refined by his Chicano experience.

Some of his works include "Raíces," a mural on the north wall at the Tucson Museum of Art, which he did with Antonio Pazos; a series of 10 murals in Downtown's El Charro Café; "Compass to the Southwest" on the UA Press building on North Park Avenue; "Sueño de Cuauhtémoc" at Pima Community College Desert Vista Campus; and "Historia de la Raza" at the South Tucson Civic Center.

His last completed mural is in the patio at University Physicians Healthcare Hospital at Kino Campus.

His murals grace homes and public schools. Tineo taught for 18 years, sharing his ideas and knowledge with students, some of whom painted murals alongside Tineo.

It is unlikely there will be any more.

He's proud of his work and attributes much to his friend. Soto helped Tineo find passion in his brushes and helped illuminate his artistic vision.

Tineo said Soto's spirit will guide him in his blindness. He said he will see ideas he had not seen before: "It opens a new world of expression."

● Ernesto Portillo Jr.'s column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Reach him at 573-4242 or at He appears on "Arizona Illustrated," KUAT-TV Channel 6, at 6:30 p.m. and midnight Fridays.