Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Luis Jimenez, R. I. P.

New Mexico sculptor killed while working in studio

HONDO - Luis Jimenez, a successful but often controversial sculptor whose work has been displayed at the Smithsonian and the Museum of Modern Art, has died in what authorities are calling an industrial accident.

The Lincoln County Sheriff's Office said part of a sculpture was being moved with a hoist at Jimenez's studio Tuesday when it came loose and struck the artist, pinning him against a steel support. He was taken to the Lincoln County Medical Center, where he was later pronounced dead.

The accident remained under investigation late Tuesday.

"Luis Jimenez's loss to the United States, to New Mexico, to the Chicano community is great," friend David Hall told KRQE News 13. "He was an icon. He was a very famous and well-respected artist. . . . We will dearly miss him."

Jimenez, 65, was known for his 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."

Jimenez won numerous awards and his work is on display at public sites across the nation. In Albuquerque, they include "Fiesta Dancers" in front of Popejoy Hall on the University of New Mexico campus and "Southwest Pieta" in Martineztown.

Some of his pieces are part of museum collections, including the one at the Museum of Fine Arts in Santa Fe.

James Moore, former director of the Albuquerque Museum, praised Jimenez's abilities.

"If there were a Michelangelo living in our time in terms of talent and creativity, Luis was it," Moore said. He said Jimenez was concerned with humanity and social conditions.

Jimenez grew up in El Paso and learned to paint and to fashion large works out of metal in his father's sign shop. He graduated in fine arts from the University of Texas and lived in New York City for a time.

In 1969, he created "Man on Fire," a sculpture of a man in flames that drew its inspiration from Buddhist monks in South Vietnam who burned themselves and the Mexican story of Cuahtemoc, set afire 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 he was working on a piece that was destined for the Denver International Airport.

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