A self-taught artist, José Antônio da Silva took part in the inaugural exhibition of the House of Culture in the city of São José do Rio Preto in 1946. His work impressed the critics Lourival Gomes Machado, Paulo Mendes de Almeida and the philosopher João Cruz e Costa. At that time, he painted landscapes and interiors with cold, dark colors.
Two years later, he held a solo exhibition at the Domus Gallery in São Paulo, in which Pietro Maria Bardi, director of the São Paulo Art Museum Assis Chateaubriand (MASP), acquired his paintings for the museum's collection. From 1948, his landscapes took on a more lyrical feel and he worked with a more vivid and varied color palette.
He mainly painted landscapes of large open spaces, representing scenes of country life, such as cotton fields, coffee plantations and pastures. Over the years he explored several other themes: still life, sacred painting, maritime, historical painting and pointillist techniques.
He participated in the first three editions of the São Paulo International Biennial. In 1966, he set up the Municipal Museum of Contemporary Art of São José do Rio Preto and had a Special Room at the 33rd Venice Biennale.