Studio accident kills well-known sculptor
UT alumni Luis Jimenez had art in Smithsonian
FROM STAFF AND WIRE REPORTS
Thursday, June 15, 2006
HONDO, N.M. — Luis Jimenez, a University of Texas graduate whose sculptures have been displayed at the Smithsonian and the Museum of Modern Art, died Tuesday in what authorities are calling an industrial accident. He was 65.
Part of a sculpture was being moved with a hoist at Jimenez's Hondo studio when it came loose and struck the artist, pinning him against a steel support, the Lincoln County sheriff's department said. He was taken to the Lincoln County Medical Center, where he was later pronounced dead.
"It's a huge loss for the Texas art community," said Jessie Otto Hite, director of UT's Blanton Museum of Art. "He really created a new language by working with fiberglass, and he was very diligent in what he did."
Jimenez was known for large and colorful fiberglass sculptures that depicted fiesta dancers, a mourning Aztec warrior, steelworkers and illegal immigrants.
His work often started arguments and spurred emotions.
"It is not my job to censor myself," Jimenez once said. "An artist's job is to constantly test the boundaries."
"Luis Jimenez's loss to the United States, to New Mexico, to the Chicano community is great," friend David Hall told Albuquerque television station KRQE. "He was an icon."
Gov. Bill Richardson ordered flags to be flown at half-staff today and Friday in honor of Jimenez.
Jimenez grew up in El Paso and learned to paint and fashion large works out of metal in his father's sign shop. He graduated from UT in 1964 with a bachelor's degree in fine arts and lived in New York for a time.
His fiberglass depictions of cowboys and Indians won national acclaim. In 1998, Texas Monthly named him one of the 20 "most impressive, intriguing, and influential Texans" of the year, and he was named to the Distinguished Alumni at UT.
Jimenez said his years at UT were crucial and formative for him.
"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 told Texas Alcalde magazine.
In 1969, he created "Man on Fire," a sculpture of a man in flames that drew its inspiration both from Buddhist monks in South Vietnam who burned themselves and the Mexican story of Cuauhtémoc, whose feet were put in a fire when he was tortured by Spanish conquerors. The sculpture was displayed at the Smithsonian.
More recently, Jimenez completed a mud casting of firefighters and three fiberglass flames as part of a memorial for the city of Cleveland and was working on a piece that was destined for Denver's international airport.
"Mr. Jimenez's untimely death is a tragic loss for the nation's art community," said Erin Trapp, director of the Denver office of cultural affairs. "He will be remembered for his artistic vision, compassion and generosity through a rich legacy of work."
Published in Austin American-Statesman on Jun. 14, 2006.