Luis Jimenez

b. 1940, El Paso, Texas

Artist Statement:

“Luis Jiménez, in his work, celebrates the vitality of life. . . . Jiménez es un hijo de la frontera; he knows its people and the landscape. It is the transformation of these people into art that is his most important contribution to the art of this vast region which stretches between Mexico and the United States. . . . His subject matter utilizes the popular images of the cultura del norte, and a large part of it is depicted and transformed in the rough and tumble world of la frontera. He is also a son of el norte, and so he uses its materials and explores its emerging, popular myths. The tension, and attraction, of Jiménez’s work is that he always creates within the space of his two worlds, the Mexicano and the Americano. He constantly shows us the irony of the two forces which repel, while showing us glimpses of the synthesis he seeks. . . . What a gift it has been to us for this talented artist to reflect on the soul of our region. He gives meaning to our existence and history.”

Rudolfo Anaya (passage chosen by the artist), “A View from La Frontera,” Man on Fire: Luis Jiménez, pp. 1, 3, 6

Biography: Luis Jiménez was born in Texas to parents who had emigrated from Mexico to the United States; he would later dedicate his 1989 sculpture Border Crossing to his father, who had entered the country illegally. The elder Jiménez was a neon sign designer in El Paso, and Luis worked with him as a youth. His experience working in the neon shop and his fascination with U.S. car culture would both become major influences on his art career. Jiménez studied architecture at the University of Texas, Austin (UTA), and also took art courses in which he first created sculptures with wood, steel, and fiberglass, choosing the latter because of its association with U.S. popular culture. He subsequently became one of the artists who made fiberglass an acceptable medium in the 1960s. In 1964 Jiménez received his B.S. in art from UTA, and he continued his studies at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México in Mexico City. In 1966 he moved to New York City and worked as an assistant to sculptor Seymour Lipton. Jiménez began to exhibit his art while in New York and in 1972 moved to New Mexico to focus on creating public sculptures, even as he maintained his diverse output of drawings, prints, and lithographs.

Drawing on his early experiences, Jiménez creates works that come from a border perspective, one that draws upon the hybridity bred by culture clashes. Often socially and politically informed, his works speak not only in regional terms, those germane to the southwestern United States, but to broader, more global issues as well. They exhibit a profoundly Chicano aesthetic and sensibility, one that is informed by Mexican and Mexican American traditions, North American popular culture, Chicano cultural icons, and images and themes unique to the Southwest. Death, sexuality, and the struggle of the common people are frequent themes. Inspired by authors who write in an autobiographical style, Jiménez creates works that function as personal narrative yet are also able to make statements about culture in more global terms. His use of bold colors and lines, a legacy from his father’s work as a neon sign maker, lends a dynamic sensuality to his work, one that is particularly evident in his monumental fiberglass and acrylic urethane sculptural works. Many of Jiménez’s works correspond to scholar Tomás Ybarra-Frausto’s definition of the Chicano aesthetic of rasquachismo, a lowbrow sensibility that appeals to the working class in that it applies to objects that subvert expressions of the mainstream or dominant culture. Creating art that speaks to the people, Jiménez is able to transform regional and culturally specific myths and symbols into globally recognized and relevant icons.

Exhibitions: In addition to his personal work, Jiménez has been commissioned for numerous public art projects. In 1999 his sculpture Southwest Pietà was designated a “National Treasure” by First Lady Hillary Clinton. The many exhibitions featuring his work have included Human Concern/Personal Torment (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1969), The First International Motorcycle Art Show (Phoenix Art Museum, Phoenix, AZ, 1973), Three Texas Artists (Centre Cultural Americaine, USIS, Paris, 1977), Recent Trends in Collecting (Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, 1982), Committed to Print (Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1989), Printmaking in Texas: The 1980s (Modern Art Museum, Fort Worth, TX, and Laguna Gloria Art Museum, Austin, 1990), The Whitney Biennial (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1991), Man On Fire: Luis Jiménez (Albuquerque Museum of Art, NM, 1994-95), 47th Annual Purchase Exhibition (American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York, 1995), and his traveling solo exhibition, Working Class Heroes: Images from the Popular Culture (1997-2000).