Meet the Artist: Luis Jimenez

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  • LUIS JIMENEZ: My father was an artist from the time he was a very young man. He became a sign painter, and I just grew up helping my dad, helping him on his projects. Some of his neon signs were actually sculptural projects. I learned how to weld at a very young age, I learned how to paint, I learned how to do all that.

    The fiberglass, I began working with in about 1963. I had been working with fiberglass on cars, and at one point, I thought, I could adapt this material to making sculpture.

    The “Fiesta” sculpture is a project that I thought of as a kind of bridge. I grew up on the border. I saw illegal families crossing. My father was illegal from the time he was nine until I was born, when he was twenty-five. I decided that’s what I would focus on, and so I thought, I’ll title it “Fiesta”, and people on both sides of the border will be able to relate to it.

    I’m still working in a very traditional process. The materials are somewhat different, but the process is all – pretty much, the process has been used for centuries. I was trying to keep the process I used as close to the industrial process as possible, because I felt it was, for lack of a better term, a blue-collar process. I didn’t want to go for that “art” process.

    “The Firefighters” is a sculpture that I took on when I was backlogged with work, and I said, “You know, I’m really overwhelmed. I just can’t do it.” I said, “But I’m just curious that you’re doing a public sculpture right now. I don’t know how you’re going to fund this project,” and he said, “We are taking a payroll deduction.” I was like, “Oh my God,” I got all choked up. It’s an ongoing project, I’m still working on it. The thing they kept stressing to me was, “We want you to show just how dangerous it is.” This is a memorial for all the firefighters in Cleveland that have been killed in the line of duty. The base has the name of all the firefighters engraved in it. The main view you’re going to get from the street of the firefighters will actually be through the flames.

    As a child, Luis Jimenez apprenticed at his father's neon-sign studio. He studied art and architecture at the University of Texas and then traveled to Mexico City, where he studied the famous Mexican muralists. His work shows his concern for working-class people and those who have suffered from discrimination. One such work, Vaquero, celebrates the Mexican tradition of the caballero and can be seen outside the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

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