About Luis Jiménez'
Southwest Pieta


SUBJECT MATTER: What subject matter (people, places, or things) can I find in the artwork?

Luis Jiménez' Southwest Pietadepicts a Native American man, clad in a loincloth, kneeling on a rock looking down at the face of a women draped with a cloth, whose dead body lies across his lap. He supports her head in his left hand. His long hair is tied back with headband, to which a feather is attached. Her hair flows, like a river, over the rocks beneath the two figures. The woman's head has fallen back. Rose petals and a thorned stem fall from her limp left hand onto the cloth and the rock below it.

A bald eagle is perched with its draped wings surrounding the blooming nopal cactus on which he perches. The eagle peers intently away from the figures. A Mescal cactus grows from the rock. A large rattlesnake twists its way along the lower edge of the cloth that covers the woman.

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

Luis Jiménez cast his Southwest Pieta in fiberglass. He made the eagle as a separate piece so that the artist and his crew could crawl inside to bolt the bulk of the sculpture to the base.

Jiménez began the process by making drawings and cutouts. He has made many drawings depicting the Southwest Pieta story. Click to view a print, called the Southwestern Pieta. He has also made a two foot high foamcore cut out, a small twenty-two inch high fiberglass model, and a drawing on two large sheets of paper. The two pieces of paper together make a drawing, which is ten feet tall and over ten feet wide.

Here is how Jiménez describes his process: "The process in terms of developing solutions is very traditional. Most of the images are a synthesis of the various ideas that I have. The solution evolves through the drawings. From there, I try to resolve the image three-dimensionally through the use of cutouts and models. I then make a full scale piece in clay, using oil-based plasticine over a steel armature. The only difference with traditional methods is at this point when I make a fiberglass mold of the plasticine rather than use plaster of Paris which had been used in the past. The mold that I'm making is in fact identical to the molds that are made for canoes, auto bodies, hot tubs, etc. I then lay the fiberglass into the fiberglass mold to make the object. When that process is complete, the molds are removed, the seams are ground off and any irregularities are repaired. I then apply a jet aircraft acrylic urethane finish to the object. When I have completed spraying the colors, I coat the sculpture with three coats of clear, which intensifies the plastic look and is the finish that the critics love to hate." (Albuquerque Museum, Man on Fire: Luis Jiménez/ El hombre en llamas, Albuquerque, NM: Albuquerque Museum, 1994, p. 48.)

Jiménez makes an edition of up to five sculptures from the master mold. The original Southwest Pieta was commissioned for the city of Albuquerque, New Mexico in 1984. The Arizona State University sculpture is the second in the edition and was made in 1994. The Arizona State University sculpture is installed on a circular base.

SENSORY ELEMENTS: What visual elements do I see in the artwork? (line, color, shape, light and dark, texture, mass, and space)

From the front Luis Jiménez' Southwest Pieta has a rather symmetrical profile created by the arch of the woman's body and her hair as it drapes over the rock base. The profile changes dramatically as one views the sculpture from other directions. The right side view reveals the strong curved extension of the eagle into the surrounding space. The left side view reveals three curved pointed cactus forms also extending out into the space around the sculpture.

The surfaces of the large masses are modified with three-dimensional relief patterns, such as the almost tubular hair of the man and woman, the feather pattern on the eagle, and the bumpy skin on the rattler. The large masses of the human forms are detailed with clearly defined muscles, tendons, and bones, visible even in the woman under her cloth drape.

The sculpture is brightly painted with rich colors: deep reds, glowing violets, strong greens accented with yellow, brown, blue-grays, and white. The surface texture has a shiny liquid look.

FORMAL ORGANIZATION: How do the elements in the artwork work together? (For example, are parts repeated, balanced, emphasized, contrasted?)

The overall form of Luis Jiménez Southwest Pieta, when viewed from the front, is a pyramid with the man's head forming the apex and the rattlesnake at the edge of the drape forming the base. As one moves around the sculpture the organic forms of the man and woman seem to flow into each other.

In contrast with the front view, the back view is more conflicting. The mass of kneeling figure of the man is flanked on the left and right by the smaller curved masses of the powerful eagle and the branches of the Mescal cactus, each stretching out away from the main mass of the sculpture into the surrounding space. Whereas the large area of pink, violet drape unifies the front view, the contrasting colors of the back view heighten the dramatic effect. The roughly bilateral symmetry of the front and back views contrasts with the strong asymmetry of the side views. From the left , the right tilting slope of the man's head and shoulder is strongly counterbalanced by the leftward thrust of the woman's knee and the Mescal cactus forms. Similarly on the right the slight left tilt of the man's head is dramatically balanced by the strong right arch of the eagle.

REPRODUCTION: What can I learn about how this reproduction (digitized or printed image) is different from the original artwork? (size, angle of view, surface texture, etc.)

Luis Jiménez' Southwest Pieta is quite large, rising six feet above its raised base. The warm colors of the sculpture blend with its surroundings. The Arizona State University casting of the sculpture is installed outside Arizona State University's Nelson Fine Arts Center in Tempe. Antoine Predock, another New Mexico artist, designed the Nelson Fine Arts Center. The exterior surfaces of the Center are pink stone colors found in the natural Arizona environment. Jiménez himself helped to choose a place on campus for the sculpture to be placed. As one walks around the sculpture its profile and its backdrop of buildings changes dramatically. The shiny surface of the sculpture gleams in the bright Arizona sun.

CONDITION: What can I learn about the condition (broken, restored, dirty) of the artwork? How did it look when it was new?

Passing visitors and students have occasionally left small tokens, such as flowers and love letters, at the Arizona State University cast of Luis Jiménez' Southwest Pieta.

The sculpture was assembled in two sections, which can separate revealing seams. Because the sculpture is installed in a public place it is vulnerable to vandalism and graffiti. In its outdoor location the fiberglass medium painted with airplane quality paint resists the effects of weather.


Who made the artwork? What are the circumstances of the art maker's life?

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 because of his family's strict religious convictions, 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, Albuquerque: 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, Albuquerque: 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.

Click here to see of photograph of Luis Jiménez.


NATURAL CONTEXT: What can I learn about the natural environment where the artwork was made? (for example, climate, landforms, natural resources)

The work was produced in Jiménez' workshop in Hondo, New Mexico. The natural environment in New Mexico includes arid flat lands, forest regions, high and low plateaus, cacti plants, piñón trees and desert brush. The weather can range from freezing snow to extremely hot conditions. Another notable condition in New Mexico is its colorful sunsets that glow with oranges, blues, reds and purples.

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

Luis Jiménez' Southwest Pietaillustrates the denouement (ending) of a traditional legend attributed to Aztec culture. According to the legend, 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 [eek-stack-SEE waddle] the hero, Popocátepetl [popo-ca-TEH-petal], goes to war. Ixtaccíhuatl, remains faithful to him at home. Popocátepetl's evil rival gets word back to Ixtaccíhuatl that Popo has been killed. When Ixta 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 for all eternity. Two actual mountains near Mexico City (Tenochtitlán, the Aztec capital) are named, Popocátepetl and Ixtaccíhuatl, after the two Aztec lovers.

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, Albuquerque: New Mexico Magazine Press, p. 27.

ARTWORLD CONTEXT: What can I learn about the art ideas, beliefs about art, and art 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 Zúñ iga. He earned a degree in art from the Cuidad Universidad of Mexico City. Zúñ iga 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)

Jiménez has said: "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.

ARTWORLD VIEWER UNDERSTANDING: What can I determine about how the person(s) for whom the artwork was made (for example, a patron, user, or other viewer of the time) understand it?

Luis Jiménez' Southwest Pietawas commissioned by the Old Town Plaza in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

According to a May 19, 1996 article in theSalt 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.

Lucy Lippard has written that "Jiménez's project has been to make a public art that both heroizes the ordinary and makes the heroic ordinary." (1990, Mixed Blessings: New Art in a Multicultural America, New York: Pantheon Books, p. 120)

The sensuous curves of the Southwest Pieta 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 her hair seems to transform into a mountain stream it reinforces the everlasting nature of love. The lively elements of the eagle, Mescal cactus, and the rattlesnake suggest the ever-present tension between life and death.

The high regard with which Luis Jiménez work is held within the artworld is evidenced by the permanent installation of his sixteen and a half foot Vaquero at the entrance of the Smithsonian's National Museum of American Art in Washington, D.C.

CULTURAL UNDERSTANDING: 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 Southwest Pieta sculpture. The story is often represented on Mexican calendars. The subject matter reinforces cultural identity. As Luis Jiménez points out, the plants and animals are significant symbols in U.S., Mexican, and Native American cultures.

Non-Chicano viewers are not so likely to be able to "read" the narrative features of the legendary Aztec love story. The sculpture met with controversy when it was installed in a park in Albuquerque. The old Hispanics who trace their families back to colonial times did not identify with the work. There were also rumors that it depicted a Spaniard's rape of an Indian woman. Eventually the sculpture was installed in the workers' community of Martineztown. Many of the Martineztown residents and ancestors were immigrants who came north from Mexico to work the railroads.

OTHER VIEWPOINTS: Are there other people's viewpoints I want to consider? If so, whose?

The people who see the Arizona State University Southwest Pieta include a wide array of multicultural university students, school children, faculty, staff, and campus visitors. The university has a significant population of Chicano community members who may know the legend's reference. The work also appeals to viewers on other levels. Catholics and art history students may notice its pieta image. Young lovers may appreciate its Romeo and Juliet tragic love story quality. Native Americans might be drawn to the man's dress. Southwesterners may identify with the desert flora and fauna.


STYLE: How does the artwork look like other artworks?

The Southwest Pieta exhibits a number of qualities that are characteristic of Luis Jiménez' personal style. Dramatic poses, bright colors, muscular definition, and a narrative quality are evident in most of his works, including Vaquero, and Howl. Also in his two-dimensional work Jiménez presents drama and a strong illusion of mass.

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 the sculptor, Francisco Zúñiga. While there he also saw paintings that he admired by José Clemente Orozco.

Jiménez' choice of materials was influenced by an artfrom popular in his community. "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 Press, p. 8.

Jésus Moroles, a prominent contemporary Chicano sculptor was once Jiménez¹ apprentice. Moroles has described his work as an apprentice with Jiménez" I was working with him, and even at the time I hadn't really decided what direction my work was going to go. I feel like in that one year I was able to gain so much experience just by osmosis, by being around him, doing the same galleries, the same exhibitions, the same museums, the same gallery talks, museum talks, transporting, shipping, work ethic, everything that he did that translated into what I wanted to do." Fourth General Session, National Art Education Association Conference, March 27, 1999, Washington, DC.

THEMES: What general ideas help 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 pieta theme, unites Luis Jiménez sculpture with the long tradition of Christian pietas depicting the Virgin Mary holding her dead son, Christ (such as Michelangelo's Vatican pieta).

The idea of seeking cultural identity in legends and traditions of the past is a theme that bridges cultures. Like Jiménez a number of other Chicano artists have reinterpreted traditional Mexican imagery for contemporary Chicano viewers, among them Yolanda López and George Yepes. Examples from other cultures 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.