Chuco Relic

About the artist Luis Jimenez

Public art was important to Luis Jimenez, he wanted his work to be seen by everyone, not just the rich. That is why he turned to public art. “He wanted his pieces to be where people enjoyed them and loved them,” said gallery owner and longtime friend Adair Margo of El Paso, “he also did lithographs to make work more affordable to more people. That was very important to him.” Jimenez’s work can be seen all over the nation. Jimenez’s artwork has been seen by countless individuals for over fifty years. His creative way of thinking and creating sparked a revolution in the art world. The source of his inspiration came from the everyday people he saw around him. His work was meant to be seen by these same everyday people. Believing that the privileged were not the only ones that should enjoy art, he created pieces that can be seen by everyone. Jimenez’s work for the past thirty years has often sparked both negative and positive discussions. Whether he depicts Mexican labor workers or childlike renderings of animals and dances, Jimenez shows life in a colorful way. Jimenez was one of the few artists that could take a few sketches and turn them into a full scale working sculpture.

Like most artists Jimenez was influenced by the very culture they grew up around. Luis Jimenez was born in El Paso, Texas on July 30, 1940 and lived in the south western region until his death on June 13, 2006. It was in this region he spent his life in was his greatest influence. This is a region a region influenced by the Chicano movement, especially in the last half of the 20th century. “The constant interaction of the two national cultures sets up a unique social, cultural, and political environment,” states authors Lori Eklund and Jerry Medrano. This was all to true with area Jimenez was born in, the city of El Paso lies straight across from Ciudad Juarez. Jimenez used his border experiences later in life to create controversial artwork about illegal immigration. His father’s work at his neon shop that gave him a better understanding on how certain materials worked, including fiberglass, a material that would become essential in his later work. Artwork that often inspired him was that of the Great Depression, Baroque expression, and graphic artwork of Mexican artists. The pop culture of America was also an inspiration. The culture of the southwest itself was most likely his greatest inspiration including low riders, flirtations, and animals. Jimenez sometimes uses his art to comment on current or historical events, attitudes, and political situations that impacted everyone’s life. Jimenez unapologetically finds his images in stereotypes and magnifies them into a celebration. Jimenez on many of the occasions wanted to show the everyday experience, in a glorified way.

From 1966 to 1972 while working in New York, Jimenez worked with East Coast images and ideas. When he returned to the southwest region Jimenez focused on the traditions of the region and wanted to honor Mexican and Mexican American contribution to American culture. Included in this series, were animals and people. In this series of drawings there are images of wolves, alligators, and dancers. Most of these drawings and sketches depicted alligators, animals that Jimenez had often seen in downtown plaza of El Paso as a child. This central downtown area was known in Spanish as “La plaza de los Lagartos,” the Alligator Plaza.6 The alligators lived in a pond in the middle of the plaza until the late sixties, and were removed due to excessive vandalism and abuse. In 1986 the El Paso Arts Alliance was interested in a centerpiece for the downtown area. Jimenez quickly suggested the alligators he had seen as a child. “It was Important that the alligators were there because I was fascinated by them,” exclaimed Jimenez, “I proposed bringing the alligators back, at least in fiberglass, because a lot of people remember them.” Jimenez then to work doing studies of wild and zoo alligators to create convincing animals. On many of the sketches Jimenez has the alligators climbing over one another in different directions. In others, the alligators seem to be almost circling each other. Some of the sketches suggested changing the area to make the area more intimate by bringing trees closer in to the plaza area. This brings the sense back to the times the real alligators were in the plaza, being that the trees that were originally in the plaza were cut down. After much debate and evaluation of his drawings, Jimenez was ready to turn his two dimensional project into a three dimensional one.

After sometime, Jimenez finally got to work on downtown centerpiece. Jimenez casted the project with the modern plastic material fiberglass. The fiberglass material is just as permanent as bronze, but has a colorful, glossy finish to the piece. The sculptor’s style of using rounded; rippling forms that simplify and exaggerate real life seem to fit in perfectly with slick- surfaced fiberglass. The material seems to fit in with modern times being that everywhere one looks there is plastic.

The four ‘plastic’ alligators are piling on one another just like his two dimensional pieces depict and all have their mouths opened fiercely. One of the four alligators is rearing up into the air as if to attack. Jimenez gives the alligators vivid blue and yellow scales. Jimenez states that these scales are stylized, unrealistic, and merely blobs of clay. Jimenez jokingly suggests that his sculptured alligators are livelier than ones that were there when he was a boy.15 Beneath the alligators is the illusion of water that frames the creatures causing the viewer to always bring their eyes back to the animals. The unveiling of the alligators was a huge success on the evening of June 29 1995, with an audience of over 500 people filling the plaza, among them was former Texas Governor George W. Bush. At this exhibit, the public could witness some of Jimenez’s other work on this project including drawings and tracings of the project’s progression.

In 2006, while working on a gigantic horse sculpture for the Denver Airport, Jimenez was killed by a loosened piece that pinned him down. Even after his death, he will always be remembered for his colorful and beautiful work. The statue is still in the center of the San Jacinto Plaza, and an amazing attraction for visitors.

By Andrew Candelaria  

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