Artist
Luis Jiménez
American sculptor

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Luis Jiménez
American sculptor
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Birth Date

July 30, 1940

Death Date

June 13, 2006

mnicer's picture

Contributor

Luis Jimenez was born on July 30, 1940 in the Segundo Barrio of El Paso, Texas.

Art was in the family line, from his glassblower grandfather who carried his family across the Rio Grande, to his father who made neon signs. It was in the neon shop that Jimenez would get start getting familiar with fiberglass and paint at the age of six, the same materials that would be used in his sculpture work for the rest of his life.  You can also find them in lowrider cars.

Remember in “A Christmas Story” when the adults respond to the main character, “You’ll shoot your eye out” every time he wished to get a BB gun?  Well, guess what happened to little ol’ Luis later on in his childhood years? Boom. For the remainder of his life he had a glass eye.

His first solo gallery showing was at the Graham Gallery in New York in 1969. Ivan Karp, director of the Leo Castelli Gallery, sent him there after Jimenez had the audacity to park his car in front and drag three of his sculptures through the front door.  Guess he had enough of going through those application processes, preferring this time to just place them there himself to give a big “screw you” to any and all administration in charge.

Jimenez’s giant sculptures celebrated the Mexican heritage and working class life he was raised in, bringing Aztec myths, Catholic themes, cowboy history, and modern-day Cholo imagery into the limelight.  His most famous sculpture, Man on Fire, was based on the Aztec emperor Cuauhtemoc and inspired by the self-immolation of Vietnamese Buddhist monks in response to the conflict in Vietnam. Another, Vaquero, discarded the friendly white cowboy that you’d see in a Marlboro ad in favor of a more historically true, gun-toting Mexican. Vaquero had to be moved twice due to controversy which Jimenez, the ever politically and culturally conscious, was no stranger to.  At the height of his career, one of his honors had him eat dinner with George W. Bush at the White House.  He showed up...in red cowboy boots. Yee-haw!

He died on June 13, 2006 after an attempt to finish one of his works, Blue Mustang, which was a way overdue commission by the city of Denver in 1992.  A part of the sculpture fell off and pinned Jimenez down, severing a major artery in his leg and ensuring his death by blood loss.  The piece gained the nickname "Blucifer” partially due to the incident.  As if Denver International Airport wasn’t creepy enough from all the conspiracy theories and Freemason imagery, the sculpture was unveiled and made a permanent fixture on February 11, 2008.

Despite a turbulent life rife with three failed marriages and later health problems, Jimenez always did it for the barrio and the culture that ran through his veins.

Sources

Sources

  1. Morton, Ella. 2014. “Beware of Blucifer, the Demon Horse of Denver Airport.” Slate Magazine. Slate. March 17, 2014. http://www.slate.com/blogs/atlas_obscura/2014/03/17/the_blue_mustang_is_....
cli's picture

Contributor

As the “Godfather” of Chicano art, Jiménez opened the doors for Chicano culture to get into the mainstream.

If you wanted to see all of Jiménez’s works, touring the United States on a fiberglass scavenger hunt would be more in your interests than visiting all the museums that the States has to offer. Jiménez’s epic fiberglass sculptures exhibit in places all over the country.

Jiménez grew up in El Paso, Texas, where he learned the beginnings of the sculpting trade in his father’s neon-sign shop. For his BFA, he attended the University of Texas in Austin. There, he made the life-altering decision of changing his major from architecture to art, after which his father stopped talking to him for several years. Good thing art doesn’t require words, because Jiménez’s future works would often reflect his father’s experience as an undocumented immigrant.

After college, he moved to New York, where he gained success parodying 1960s American pop culture. In the 1970s, Jiménez started drawing inspiration from social realist Mexican artists like Diego Rivera and from murals commissioned by the WPA, made during the jolly years of the Great Depression. For his medium, Jiménez chose fiberglass, a material considerably less bourgeoisie than marble or aggressively masculine than bronze. As the sculptor put it, he wanted a material that lacked their “emotional baggage.”

Since immigrants (or any of us, really) can’t really relate to voluptuous marble nudes, Jiménez chose a subject a bit closer to home: the struggle of immigration itself. He flips the coin of North America onto its other side, imbuing Western archetypes with Hispanic and Native American flavor and originality. He saw what his people needed in art, and he gave it to them in full, 10-foot-tall measure.

Luis Jiménez has constructed giant Mexican cowboys, an immigrant carrying his family on his back, and a couple dancing the jarabe, or Mexican hat dance—all of whom everyone from Latinos to feminists have had issues with. Jiménez treated the criticisms like a stinky cheese, though, powering through their taste while appreciating their overall presence.

Jiménez passed away in 2006 when a piece of a 32-foot-high sculpture being moved from his studio came loose and pinned him to a steel support. The Denver International Airport had commissioned him to create a giant mustang, which—in a modern twist on Dr. Frankenstein—crushed the artist with his own creation.

Jiménez is survived by his four children and a generation of people inspired with authentic images that remind them not of a utopian, Westernized world, but of their own experiences in America.

Sources

Sources

  1. Marter, Joan M. The Grove encyclopedia of American art. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.
  2. Belcher, David A. "Luis Jiménez, Sculptor, Dies in an Accident at 65." The New York Times. June 14, 2006. http://www.nytimes.com/2006/06/15/arts/design/15Jiménez.html.
  3. Stewart, Jocelyn Y. "Luis Jiménez Jr., 65; Artist Whose Sculptures Are on Public Display Nationwide." Los Angeles Times. June 15, 2006. http://articles.latimes.com/2006/jun/15/local/me-Jiménez15.