Jimenez, Luis, Man on Fire, 1969Museum Purchase with Funds Provided By the Edward J. Gallagher, Jr. Memorial FundFiberglass/Epoxy/Resin, 104″ x ? X ?© 2013 Estate of Luis A. Jimenez Jr. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Luis Jiménez, a first-generation American, was born in El Paso, Texas. He studied and worked most of his life in the southwest region of the United States where he was born and raised. He described his roots as being partly in Mexico and partly in Texas. This Chicano experience and perspective had tremendous impact on his art. Jiménez’s early training in art started when he was six, working in his father’s sign shop. Studying architecture at the University of Texas in Austin, he lived for a short period in Mexico and New York, but eventually settled in the southwest from 1970 to the day he died.
While Jiménez was trained to work in metal at his father’s sign shop, and his earliest sculptures were in metal, his preferred medium was fiberglass. He is most widely known for his large scale fiberglass sculptures, where he took a medium most closely associated with cars and appropriated it for “fine art” purposes. Combining the pop medium of fiberglass with more traditional southwest themes, Jiménez brought Native American, Chicano, and Mexican figures into the traditional art setting.
Made in 1969 and standing more than seven feet high, Man on Fire was described by Jiménez as being informed by the Aztec story of Cuauhtémoc, which his grandmother often repeated to him as a child. Cuauhtémoc was an Aztec slave who provoked other Aztecs to revolt against Hernán Cortés. When he was eventually defeated by Cortés’s army, Cuauhtémoc was burned alive at the stake. Many Mexican-Americans and Mexicans still admire the Aztec figure, seeing him as an Indigenous hero. Jiménez said that Man on Fire was also influenced by the Buddhist monks in South Vietnam who burned themselves to death in protest of the Vietnam War. The immense scale, color and pose all work to create a scene of heroic drama.
In 2006, Luis Jiménez was killed in an accident at his studio in Hondo, Texas when a large scale sculpture came loose from a crane, pinning him against a steel support. His life’s work, like Man on Fire, dealt with social and political issues with bold figures that seem to move and vibrate in bright spray painted color. Many of his works are on permanent public display outside museums, airports, and city buildings across the United States.
Luis Jiménez / American Art. (n.d.). Retrieved March 21, 2013, from http://americanart.si.edu/collections/search/artist/?id=2459
Miers, D. (Ed.). (1988). The Latin American Spirit: Art and Artists in the United States, 1920-1970. New York, NY: Harry N. Abrams.
Oral history interview with Luis Jiménez, 1985 Dec. 15-17 – Oral Histories | Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. (n.d.). Retrieved March 21, 2013, from http://www.aaa.si.edu/collections/interviews/oral-history-interview-luis-jimenez-13554
History is a common theme in Luis Jiménez’s work. Mexican history, art history and cultural traditions all inform his large scale pop-art style sculptures. His unconventional choice of medium, fiberglass, for instance, is an intentional nod to the Lowrider car culture in the Latino community. His subject matter however, is steeped in the heroic mythology surrounding the historical Aztec figure of Cuauhtémoc.
Jiménez’s sculptures are made from fiberglass molds, which are spray painted bright bold colors, and then coated with epoxy resin. This media and process is what allows his work to possess its sleek, fluid, and glossy look. This similar style can be seen in custom lowrider cars, a movement that began in California after WWII as Hispanics purchased affordable used cars, but sought ways to individualize their automobiles. The Lowrider Movement exploded in the 1960’s and 70’s, coinciding with the Civil Rights movement. The aesthetics of the lowrider can be attributed to young Chicano sense of pride as well as a refusal to be anglicized. While the car culture of white suburban youths has been about speed, the lowrider is a direct opposite. Its lowered chassis, hydraulics, and airbrushed murals are designed for cruising, or going “low and slow”.
The end of the 1960’s was a time of major domestic unrest in the United States. Nationwide violence such as the assassinations of President John Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert F. Kennedy in addition to America’s involvement in Vietnam, generated a period of fear and critical cynicism. Man on Fire situates itself within this period, reflecting the violence and anger of the era. It references not only the Buddhist monks in South Vietnam who burned themselves to death in protest of the Vietnam War but also the Aztec warrior Cuauhtémoc who fought the invading Spanish in the sixteenth century, who according to legend, was burned alive. Cuauhtémoc has become a mythic hero in Mexico as well as in many Latino communities in the United States.
Frost, B. (2002). Low and Slow: The History of Lowriders. Retrieved April 23, 2013, from http://www.historyaccess.com/historyoflowride.html
Phillips, L. (1999). The American Century: Art & Culture 1950-2000. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.
Poetry- Descriptive List Poem
Some great poems are nothing more than a list that describes a thing, person, or place. Start by slowly looking at Luis Jiménez’s sculpture Man on Fire for a few minutes. Take in the work piece by piece, from top to bottom and back again. “What do you see in Man on Fire?” Make an opening line. The rest of the poem is a list of what you see.
Line 3 name and describe observation 2
Line 4 name and describe observation 3
Line 5 name and describe observation 4
Line 6 name and describe observation 5
Line 7 name and describe observation 6
Continue until work is completely described…..
Line 2 One father, taller than the rest
Line 3 A mother holding back a smile
Line 4 Child with freckles and a mess of curls
Line 5 House porch cracked with old white paint
An artworks’ meaning is often created from a combination of formal elements (such as color), theme and context. Record the qualities of form, theme, and context that you see in Jiménez’s sculpture, Man on Fire on the “FTC Palette”. Summarize the meaning/s of the sculpture in a short essay citing the visual evidence to support your conclusions.
Comparative- Text to Text
Heroism is a common theme in literature and in art. Compare Luis Jiménez’s work Man on Fire to Käthe Kollwitz’s Weberzug (Weavers on the March). How does each artist convey the idea of heroism in their work? How is the idea communicated? Read the biographies and historical essays for each artist, and/or perform your own research about the artists and the artworks. Record your observations on the “Text to Text Connections Diagram”. Write a short essay about the two art works and how the theme of heroism is explored through the works of each.
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