Luis Jimenez, American (1940 - 2006)

 Luis Jimenez or Luis Jiménez was a sculptor from the United States. He was born in El Paso, Texas and died in Hondo, New Mexico. He studied art and architecture at the University of Texas in Austin, earning a bachelor's degree in 1964. He became an accomplished artist and taught art at the University of Houston.

Luis Alfonso Jiménez Jr. was born in El Paso, Texas, on July 30, 1940, and grew up in the city's Segundo Barrio neighborhood. His grandfather had been a glassblower in Mexico, and his undocumented immigrant father, Luis Sr., ran a sign shop and had hoped to become a professional artist himself. He had won a nationwide art competition in the 1930s, but the promised prize money fell victim to Depression-era cutbacks at the sponsoring organization and was never delivered. Instead, he poured his creativity into signs that appeared around El Paso. "Right here was the Fiesta Drive-In," Jiménez told Santiago as he showed her around El Paso. "It had a neon sign that he made of a woman dancing in a flamenco skirt in front of two guys sitting on the ground wearing sombreros. With each flash of light in the circuit, her dress would appear to go higher and higher, until at the end the guys' hats would fly up in the air. That was typical of my dad's signs—lots of action and color."

Jiménez started working in the shop at age six, becoming familiar with industrial materials such as fiberglass and the paints that could be used on them. The family appreciated art where they found it. Sometimes on trips to Mexico they would visit museums or public buildings bearing giant historical paintings by José Orozco or one of the country's other great muralists. Jiménez, however, saw few prospects for himself in El Paso, whose atmosphere for Mexicans he likened to that of apartheid-era South Africa for blacks. He jumped at the chance to attend the University of Texas at Austin in 1960. "College was really a great experience for me, because had I not gone to Austin, I would never have had the kind of exposure to the world that I ended up having," he said in a Texas Alcalde interview quoted in the Austin American-Statesman . His father was furious when he switched his major from architecture to art, but he persisted and received a fine arts degree in 1964.

After two years spent studying art in Mexico City, Jiménez headed for New York. He felt a new sense of freedom there—in a city with people and artists from all over the world, his Chicano ethnicity did not stand out. As an unknown artist competing against hundreds or thousands of others, however, he faced long odds. He got a job as an assistant to sculptor Seymour Lipton and also worked from 1966 to 1969 for the city of New York as an arts program coordinator. His marriage to his wife, Vicky, which had begun in 1961 and produced a daughter, Elisa, broke up in 1966. He was married again the following year to Mary Wynn, but that marriage, too, ended in divorce after three years. Jiménez visited numerous galleries, trying to interest them in his work, but he got nowhere.

Finally, in 1969, Jiménez parked his truck in front of the prestigious Leo Castelli Gallery, which he had heard featured works by up-and-coming artists. This time, instead of relying on verbal salesmanship, he dragged three large sculptures through the front door. Gallery director Ivan Karp was outraged at first, but then impressed. He sent Jiménez to the Graham Gallery, which mounted the artist's first solo show. The staff there expressed surprise when Jiménez's sculptures found a ready market among art buyers, and Jiménez's career accelerated when the powerful and notoriously cranky New York Times art critic Hilton Kramer praised the Jiménez works displayed in a second Graham Gallery show.

Jiménez was known for his large polychromed fiberglass sculptures usually of Southwestern and Hispanic themes. His works were often controversial and eminently recognizable because of their themes and the bright, colorful undulating surfaces that Jiménez employed. In 1998 he received a Distinguished Alumni award from the University of Texas in recognition of his artwork.

He was killed on June 13, 2006, in his studio when a large piece, a mustang intended for Denver International Airport, fell on him severing an artery in his leg. The sculpture was based on the eight-foot-high sculpture Mesteño (Mustang), now on display at the University of Oklahoma.

Jiménez worked in the industrial, unabashedly commercial medium of fiberglass, and he drew on such commonplace art traditions as Mexican wall calendar prints, cowboy imagery, and "lowrider" truck decoration. Yet his work reflected a detailed knowledge of Mexican and European artistic traditions. He made sculptures for public places, intended to be seen and understood by the thousands of ordinary people, in many cases of Latino descent, who would pass by them every day, yet he also had a strong following among sophisticated art collectors. Jiménez's art had many aspects, but perhaps its most distinctive characteristic was the way it was structured to appeal to a variety of audiences. "My working-class roots have a lot to do with it; I want to create a popular art that ordinary people can relate to as well as people who have degrees in art," Jiménez explained to Chiori Santiago of Smithsonian . "That doesn't mean it has to be watered down. My philosophy is to create a multilayered piece, like [novelist Ernest] Hemingway's Old Man and the Sea . The first time I read it, it was an exciting adventure story about fishing. The last time, I was deeply moved."

Jiménez's daughter Elisa is a multimedia artist and fashion designer and a contestant on Season 4 of Bravo's reality television series series Project Runway.

- Photo is of Portrait of Luis Jiminez by his daughter Elisa Jimenez

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