About Luis Jiménez'

Southwestern Pieta


REPRODUCTION: What can I learn about how this reproduction is different from the original artwork?

The image on the computer is a digitized image. The original print is quite large (30" x 44") and is printed on thick paper.

CONDITION: What can I learn about the condition of the artwork?

The lithographic print is in excellent condition.

SUBJECT MATTER: What can I determine about what the artwork depicts, if anything?

The print shows a seated man with bent back holding on his lap the body of a dead woman reclining with head down and one knee up. His knees protrude under her striped dress. Her arms, shoulders and legs are exposed. He wears a bandanna on his head and is unclothed above the waist. An eagle, nopal cactus, maguey mescal cactus, ears of corn, and snowcapped mountain peaks also appear in the print.

Printmaking Lesson Index

TOOLS, MATERIALS, AND PROCESSES: What can I learn about how the artwork was made?

Luis Jiménez drew a key image on his first aluminum plate and used it as a guide as he drew five additional plates, one for each color. The print is one of an edition of fifty. Joe Segura, a master printer, inked each plate, placed a heavy paper over the plate, and ran the plate through a press. He repeated this process six times with each print (once for each color) in order to make the final print.

Lithographic prints are made by marking a flat surface (usually a polished stone) with a greasy pencil, which repels water. Jiménez used an aluminium plate instead of the traditional polished limstone. The artist seals the unmarked areas by coating the surface with a water-based seal, which is repelled by the grease pencil marks. The printer then rolls oil-based ink over the surface. The ink sticks only to the grease marked areas. When the printer places a paper over the surface and applies pressure with a press, the ink is transferred to the paper to make the print.

Sensory Lesson Index

SENSORY ELEMENTS: What visual elements do you see?

The print has a strong linear quality. Luis Jiménez used lines to define anatomical parts and used cross hatching and changes in value (light and dark) to suggest volume. His six colors are red, yellow, blue, green, black, and light beige.

FORMAL ORGANIZATION: How do the elements in the artwork work together?

Luis Jiménez achieved an overall rhythmic quality by emphasizing curves throughout his print. The central triangular shape of the female figure dominates the image and is repeated in the mountains in the background. The image is unified by a its generally warm color scheme.


Luis Jiménez was born in El Paso, Texas on July 30, 1940. He is the son of an illegal immigrant who became a citizen at the age of 25. At an early age he worked in his father's neon-sign making shop. As a young person Jiménez witnessed the power of festival music and dance to build community identity, although as a Protestant he was not allowed to dance.

After beginning his college education at Texas Western College in El Paso, Jiménez studied architecture at the University of Texas in El Paso and later studied art at the University of Texas in Austin. When he switched his major to fine arts, his father "basically disowned me. He [Jiménez' father] wouldn't speak to me for a couple of years." Camille Flores-Turney. (1997). Howl: The Artwork of Luis Jiménez, no city indicated: New Mexico Magazine Press, p. 15.

In 1964 Jiménez studied art in Mexico City, and in 1966 moved to New York City. Jiménez lived in New York City during a time of street riots and anti Vietnam War protests. While living in New York, he worked for the NYC Youth board, worked as a sculptor's apprentice, and succeeded in having his artwork exhibited for the first time. "At his first show, Jiménez received a gold watch from his father. Engraved inside were the conciliatory words, 'To my son the artist.'" Camille Flores-Turney. (1997). Howl: The Artwork of Luis Jiménez, no city indicated: New Mexico Magazine Press, p. 18.

A daughter, Elisa, was born to Jiménez and his first wife. Elisa is now a successful exhibiting artist.

In 1971 Jiménez returned to the southwest, to Hondo, New Mexico, where he lives with his family today. His second wife is an artist and they have three children.


NATURAL CONTEXT: What can I learn about the natural environment where the artwork was made?

New Mexico, where Luis Jiménez lives and works, is an arid region of mountains, basins, and plateaus, where desert plants and animals live. "Animals in the wild reveal truths about ourselves, Jiménez says, 'They remind us about a part of ourselves that we often try to hide from ourselves.'" Camille Flores-Turney. (1997). Howl: The Artwork of Luis Jiménez, no city indicated: New Mexico Magazine Press, p. 41.

FUNCTIONAL CONTEXT: What can I learn about how the artwork was used?

The print illustrates the ending of a traditional legend attributed to Aztec culture. Luis Jiménez used the print, as well as numerous drawings, as he worked out his composition for a large fiber glass sculpture also called Southwestern Pieta.

CULTURAL CONTEXT: What can I determine about what people thought, believed, or did in the culture in which the artwork was made?

New Mexico has a long, complex history defined by the evolving, overlapping cultures of Native Americans, Spanish colonists, U. S. citizens of European descent, and Mexicans.

"New Mexico Hispanics have an identity problem, and are in fact a divided community, Jiménez says. Some call themselves pure Spanish land-grant settlers, and the others align themselves with an Indo-European culture that evolved since the Conquest. The distinction is based on the amount of Western European blood that runs through the veins, a vestige of the caste system that continues to infest American society. It is in effect a tool to distance one's self from the life of another. To close one's ears to the howl. 'To proclaim a kind of ethnic purity flies in the face of reality. We all got mixed up a long time ago,' Jiménez contends." Camille Flores-Turney. (1997). Howl: The Artwork of Luis Jiménez, no city indicated: New Mexico Magazine Press, p. 27.

ARTWORLD CONTEXT: What can I learn about the art ideas, beliefs, and activities that were important in the culture in which the artwork was made?

Luis Jiménez has lived in a world with art influences from an early age. He saw murals in Mexico City on a trip when he was only five. At the age of six, he began working with his father, who was a nationally known, innovative neon sign maker.

Jiménez studied architecture at the University of Texas at El Paso and then at the University of Texas at Austin. Later he went to Mexico City to work with Francisco Zúñiga. He earned a degree in art from the Cuidad Universidad of Mexico City. Zúñiga advised him to go to New York. When he did, he apprenticed to the sculptor Seymour Lipton. In New York City he met a number of Latin American artists. While in New York his work was exhibited at the Graham Gallery and at the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Some of Jiménez' one-person shows include O.K. Harris Works of Art in New York, Long Beach Museum of Art, Contemporary Arts Museum in Houston, Hill's Gallery Contemporary Art in Santa Fe, Franklin Struve Gallery in Chicago, Bienville Gallery in New Orleans, Pepperdine Gallery at the University of Southern California, Dag Hammerskjöld Plaza in New York, Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery, Lisa Sette Gallery in Scottsdale, Albuquerque Museum, National Museum of American Art of the Smithsonian Museum, and many, many more.

Jiménez has received commissions from Stueben Glass in New York, National Endowment for the Arts, City of Fargo, Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority in Buffalo, Veterans Administration Hospital in Oklahoma City, Otis Art Institute of Parsons School of Design in Los Angeles, Center City Development Corporation of San Diego, Three Rivers Art Festival in Pittsburgh, Denver International Airport, and the Cleveland Firefighters Memorial, among others.

Jiménez has called himself a folk artist.


MAKER'S INTENTION: What can I learn about why the maker wanted the artwork to look the way it does?

Luis Jiménez was aware of the image of the Aztec lovers, Popocátepetl and Ixtaccíhuatl from his youth. He has used and refined it in various ways for over twenty years. In 1976 he collaborated with his, then fifteen-year-old, daughter to develop a watercolor image of the Aztec couple painted on the side of a customized van of the barrio. Jiménez has said that the image of Popocátepetl and Ixtaccíhuatl "embodies a personal sense of loss over what actually happened when the European culture collided with the Native American culture." (conversation with Mary Erickson, August 19, 1997)

"What I liked about the Southwest Pieta image in terms of Albuquerque was a kind of commonality of symbols and images. The same images and symbols that are so important to us in Mexico are also equally important to us in the U.S. Certainly the eagle - it's the national symbol for both countries. The rattlesnake is important from a religious standpoint for the Native Americas, as are the two plant forms that I used in the piece. The Nopal cactus was an important food and actually still is south of the border, as is the Maguey Mescal cactus. You know, the local Apaches here in the area are called the Mescaleros because they were Mescal eaters. There's a bulb at the bottom of the plant. It's an important food source. It's also what they make tequila out of." Man on Fire: Luis Jiménez/ El hombre en llamas, Albuquerque, NM: Albuquerque Museum, 1994, p. 142.

Viewer Lesson Index

ARTWORLD VIEWER UNDERSTANDING: What can I determine about how the viewer, patron, or user understood the artwork?

There is an edition of fifty prints of Southwestern Pieta. Some are owned by museums and other by private individuals. A print displayed in a home may well have special significance to its owner. Viewers of a print exhibited in a museum in the southwest may understand it differently from visitors who see another of the prints of the Soutwestern Pieta on exhibit at a museum in the east, south, or midwest .

Mexican Americans who grew up with the story that the print depicts will understand it differently from, for example, art history scholars who are familiar with many pietàs (usually the dead Christ held by his mother, the Virgin Mary) in Western art.

According to a May 19, 1996 article in the Salt Lake Tribune, "Aztec Past Meets Fiberglass Future," "Jiménez has become a contemporary spokesman on commingling of cultures as they were in historic Mexico and as they continue to be in the American Southwest, where he resides." Jiménez' depiction of a legend that precedes Hispanic influence using Western art traditions supports an interpretation of the Southwestern Pieta as an expression of commingled cultures.

(Luis Jiménez made a sculpture called Southwest Pieta, a year after the print. It is one of an edition of five castings. The sculpture met with controversy when it was installed in a park in Albuquerque. There were rumors that it depicted a Spaniard's rape of an Indian woman. Eventually the sculpture was installed in the workers' community of Martineztown.)

CULTURAL IMPACT: What can I learn about how the artwork was understood within culture in which it was made?

Many Chicanos are familiar with the story depicted in the print. The story is often represented on Mexican calendars. Non-Chicano viewers are not so likely to be able to "read" the narrative of the print. According to the legend, attributed to Aztec culture, but refined by 19th century romantic Mexican sensibilities, Popo and Ixta, the Aztec emperor's daughter, were secret lovers. In order to prove himself to the father of Ixtaccíhuatl, the hero, Popocátepetl, goes to war, Ixtaccíhuatl, remains faithful to him at home. Popocátepetl's evil rival gets word back to Ixtaccíhuatl that Popocátepetl has been killed. When Ixtaccíhuatl hears of her lover's death, she dies of grief during her wedding ceremony to the evil rival. After Popocátepetl returns safely he discovers the tragedy. He takes Ixta to the highest mountains and stays with her for days on end. Eventually, the gods take pity on the lovers and turn them into complementary mountains (Popocáteptl is on the right and Ixtaccíhuatl on the left), for all eternity. The two mountains in the background of Luis Jiménez' print represent actual mountains near Mexico City (Tenochtitlán, the Aztec capital) named, Popocátepetl and Ixtaccíhuatl, after the two Aztec lovers.

The sensuous curves of the image emphasize the attraction between the lovers. The warm colors suggest passion and blood. The triangular position of the woman suggests the strength and endurance (like the mountain) of faithful love. As Luis Jiménez points out, the plants and animals are significant symbols in U.S., Mexican, and Native American cultures. Corn, a plant indigenous to the Americas has great significance in traditional Mesoamerican and Native American cultures.


STYLE: How does the artwork look like other artworks?

Clearly recognizable subject matter and traditional drawing techniques (anatomical detail and cross hatching, for example) are often characteristics of artworks by Chicano artists. Many Chicano artists also choose ancient Mesoamerican subject matter.

INFLUENCE: What can I learn about how earlier artworks influenced this artwork or about whether this artwork influenced later artworks?

Luis Jiménez work draws from several traditions, from the sign-making practices of his father; from the street culture of the Southwest; from the WPA mural tradition of the Depression; as well as from the graphic traditions of Mexican artists in the first half of the twentieth century. Jiménez went to Mexico City in 1964 to work with Francisco Zúñiga. While there he also saw paintings that he admired by José Clemente Orozco.

"Early on, [Jiménez] realized that the glimmering lowriders cruising the streets and highways of the Southwest had already synthesized painting and sculpture. They were the ultimate accommodation of solidity and translucency, and as a young Protestant, growing up in a Catholic world with an artist's education, Jiménez recognized the traditions of Baroque art in the design and execution of these magical automobiles -- in the way the smooth folds of steel and the hundreds of coats of transparent lacquer caught the light and held it as they slipped through the dry streets like sleeves of liquid color." Dave Hickey, (1997) "Introduction" in Howl: The Artwork of Luis Jiménez by Camille Flores-Turney, New Mexico Magazine, p. 8.

THEMES: What general ideas connect this artwork to other artworks?

The theme of narrative unites Luis Jiménez' work with many artists of different cultures. Among these artists are Chicana/o artists like, Carmen Lomas Garza, Luis Guerra, and Yolanda López; Mexican artists like Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, José Guadalupe Posada, and Alfredo Zalce; American regionalists, such as Thomas Hart , and Grant Wood; and European artists such as Francisco Goya, Honoré Daumier, and William Hogarth.

The pietà theme, unites Luis Jiménez lithograph with the long tradition of Christian pietas depicting the Virgin Mary holding her dead son, Christ (such as Michelangelo's Vatican pietà).

The idea of seeking cultural identity in legends of the past is a theme that bridges cultures. Examples include the Renaissance revision of classical Greek and Roman art and culture, early U.S. neo-classical architecture, and the Chinese painting tradition of looking to great masters of the past.

© 2001 Hispanic Research Center, Arizona State University. All Rights Reserved.