Clotilde Jiménez’s Collages Reflect the Patchwork Nature of Identity

Justin Kamp
Sep 30, 2020 7:24PM
Clotilde Jiménez
N.W.A. (Niggaz Wit Attitude), 2016
Mariane Ibrahim Gallery

Portrait of Clotilde Jiménez. Courtesy of the artist and Mariane Ibrahim Gallery.

When Clotilde Jiménez describes his artistic practice as a matter of necessity, he’s not talking about a compulsive desire to create. Everything to do with his work—his expressive use of collage and sculpture, the subjects he focuses on, even his very commitment to art—came about because there was simply no other option.

“I entered visual art through an ultimatum,” Jiménez told Artsy. “I grew up in Philadelphia, in a low-income area, and the school in my area was really bad. My mom did some research and found this new school for architecture and design, and they had a program for at-risk youth. She said, ‘Look, this is your only way to not end up like everyone else. If you go [to the other school], you’ll get into trouble.’ And I applied.”

Clotilde Jiménez, installation view of “The Contest” at Mariane Ibrahim Gallery, 2020. Courtesy of Mariane Ibrahim Gallery.


It’s a fitting origin story for an artistic practice centered on the continuous construction and excavation of the self. Jiménez, who is based in Mexico City, recently closed his debut solo exhibition at Mariane Ibrahim Gallery in Chicago, “The Contest,” his first solo show since a 2018 exhibition with Jacob Lawrence Gallery in Seattle. In striking sculptures and collages, he combines visions of boxers and bodybuilders, family and physicality, and queerness and Blackness into explorations of the patchwork nature of his identity.

Just as Jiménez’s entry into visual art was a matter of necessity, so too were his choices of mediums. In high school, he focused mainly on drawing, describing his initial attraction to the medium as predicated on accessibility—“We all have access to a piece of paper and a pencil, right?”—and, as he continued into higher art education, the often prohibitive costs of certain materials continued to define his practice and philosophy. After graduating from the Cleveland Institute of Art in 2013, he found himself running low on resources, and again had to innovate with whatever was at hand.

Clotilde Jiménez, Always On Guard, 2020. Courtesy of the artist and Mariane Ibrahim Gallery.

Clotilde Jiménez
Pose No. 2, 2019
Mariane Ibrahim Gallery

“I was broke and trying to paint something, and I ran out of red paint and couldn’t afford another tube,” Jiménez said. “But I had all these magazines around. So I found some red, ripped it out, and pasted it on. Had I ripped out a red piece of paper and included it in a painting during art school, they would start asking me about [Clement] Greenberg. I’m like, I’m just broke!”

Despite this hardscrabble introduction, collage represented a vastly expanded world of possibilities for Jiménez. After initial experiments combining paint and magazine cutouts, he began to incorporate materials including tissue paper, paper towels, sandpaper, tablecloths, mattresses, and even clothing, which he often took home from his day job working backstock at American Apparel. “I’m just interested in using materials that speak to where I am, what I’m doing, and what’s around me,” the artist explained.

Clotilde Jiménez with his sculpture, Orange Boxer, 2020, in “The Contest” at Mariane Ibrahim Gallery, 2020. Courtesy of Mariane Ibrahim Gallery.

Clotilde Jiménez
I Had a Dream I Took an L, 2020
Mariane Ibrahim Gallery

The multifaceted, recombinant nature of the medium also allowed him to construct figures that felt closer to his own experience of identity. As a bisexual Black and Puerto Rican man, he had a hard time finding images that looked like him. By expanding his archive of materials, he could more fully counteract the predominantly white, heteronormative imagery that dominates so much historical media.

“I never liked this ‘hashtag collage’ style,” Jiménez said. “A white family from the 1950s that’s cut out and pasted onto, like, a galaxy? It just made me uneasy.…I can’t see myself. I can’t see anyone I know in that.”

Clotilde Jiménez, Pose No. 6, 2020. Courtesy of the artist and Mariane Ibrahim Gallery.

The necessity of rendering his own lived experience led Jiménez to create the bronze busts and funhouse-mirror athletes that populated “The Contest.” The posed, contorted Black bodies on display in his collages are cobbled together from cutouts and charcoal, their vibrant backgrounds patchworked from fabric; the bronze sculptures don boxing headgear. The show reflected a childhood spent in Philadelphia gyms, but it was also a rekindling of the connection between Jiménez and his father, a longtime boxer and bodybuilder with whom Jiménez reconnected after coming out as bisexual. In the physicality and pageantry of their shared pastimes, Jiménez saw a chance to braid together family history and his queer reality.

As he was coming up with the concept for the show, Jiménez had begun boxing again—first during his MFA studies at the Slade School of Art in London, and then with his father in Philadelphia. “At a certain point in everyone’s life, they want to fight their dad,” he joked. And while the bouts with his 250-pound father were excruciating, they were also cathartic, both for the reconciliation they provided and for the recognition that this family tradition, along with bodybuilding, had significant overlap with his queer identity.

Clotilde Jiménez, The Family Tradition, 2020. Courtesy of the artist and Mariane Ibrahim Gallery.

Clotilde Jiménez, Pose No. 5, 2020. Courtesy of the artist and Mariane Ibrahim Gallery.

“When I’m sparring, I’m completely making myself vulnerable to this other man,” Jiménez said. “I’m breathing hard. It’s sensual. It’s very intimate, if you allow yourself to go there. When people are watching you spar or fight, they’re spectators enjoying this blood sport. But when you’re in there, it’s a very intimate connection with your opponent.”

From the boxing ring, where fighters sweat, breathe, and embrace each other in a dance of athleticism, Jiménez created works like Shadow Boxer and Toy Puncher (both 2020). In the oil-lacquered bodies and admiring stares of bodybuilders at competition, he found the basis for the “Pose” series. Figures in his works flex; they feint; they check out and show off.

Clotilde Jiménez, installation view of “The Contest” at Mariane Ibrahim Gallery, 2020. Courtesy of Mariane Ibrahim Gallery.

The bronze sculptures of “The Contest” also reflect a braiding of lineages. Jiménez remembered visiting and playing on a number of the public monuments scattered about Philadelphia as a child. They were objects, but also likenesses and repositories of a social history—one that was almost completely whitewashed. The city famously has a statue of fictional Italian American boxer Rocky Balboa; infamously, and until just recently, it also had a statue of the city’s racist former mayor and police chief Frank Rizzo. By crafting Black faces out of bronze, Jiménez hoped to start forcing new likenesses out into the world, “so that the next little Black boy, like I was in the 1990s, can walk around and maybe see themselves in my work,” he said.

Those hopes appear to be paying off. Despite his relatively recent debut, Jiménez’s work has already landed in the collections of art-world tastemakers including Beth Rudin DeWoody and Kasseem Dean (a.k.a. Swizz Beatz). His institutional star is similarly rising: He’s currently exhibiting at the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art as part of the group show “Shifting Gaze,” and is scheduled to appear in an upcoming group show at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, titled “The Condition of Being Addressable.” The cut-up contortions of Jiménez’s figures seem to have an ever-growing hold on the art world’s attention.

Clotilde Jiménez, Pose No. 7, 2020. Courtesy of the artist and Mariane Ibrahim Gallery.

Clotilde Jiménez, Pose No. 4, 2020. Courtesy of the artist and Mariane Ibrahim Gallery.

The building of bodies, in every sense, is perhaps the central tenet of Jiménez’s practice. Self-invention and affirmation are not just artistic mantras for him; they’re day-to-day realities. Compositing multiple perceptions and self-perceptions into a coherent whole is his experience of being in the world.

“Before people even know me, they see me, they see how tall I am, my hair, my accent,” he said. “These are all collage elements—they’re like molecules that build up a person. And these layers are constantly being put on us, and being removed as well. People put things on you, sometimes you put them on yourself, and then you remove them. We’re constantly changing, evolving.”

Justin Kamp