Controversial and Critically Acclaimed, Luis Jiménez Portrays the American Southwest

“Every talent must unfold itself in fighting,” wrote Friedrich Nietzsche. The phrase aptly summarizes the controversial life and death of the celebrated sculptor Luis Jiménez, whose work—described as violent, raucous, mythical, and garish—is now on view in New York, in “AMERICAN DREAM” at ACA Galleries.

Despite his extraordinary artistic talent, Jiménez, the Texas-born son of a Mexican signmaker, never had a particularly easy time in life. But from the beginning, his art was potent and rough around the edges. He worked with industrial materials, including neon tubing, automotive paint, scrap metal, and fiberglass, as a young man. After completing his studies at the University of Texas and in Mexico City, he moved to New York, where his bold, eye-catching work caught the eye of the famed Italian-American art dealer Leo Castelli. Although Jiménez put on his first solo show in New York in the mid-sixties, and was met with critical acclaim during the handful of years that he lived and worked there, the artist was ultimately drawn back to his Southwestern roots by 1971.

During the decades that followed, Jiménez was both lauded and heavily criticized. And his art echoed his life—wild and unconventional, larger-than-life, hectic and lusty, rich with cowboys and curvaceous women, and subverted Catholic imagery looming big and bright. Or was it his life echoing his art? He was a natural-born artist, not a businessman: he was plagued with debt and frequently unable to meet his deadlines. But Jiménez wasn’t so interested in disentangling himself from the working-class cross-cultural milieu of his roots. As he once put it: “I want to create a popular art that ordinary people can relate to as well as people who have degrees in art.” To that end, Jiménez embraced the rugged spirit of his Southwest in all of its vivid colors.

It’s tragic, and eerily fitting, that Jiménez’s life was cut short while working in his New Mexico studio, after he was fatally impaled by a massive fiberglass piece under construction. The 9,000-pound sculpture, Blue Mustang, was installed in 2008 outside of Denver’s airport, and has garnered both admiration and calls for its removal—keeping the spirited dialogue that has surrounded Jiménez’s work alive long after his death.

Bridget Gleeson

Luis Jimenez: AMERICAN DREAM” is on view at ACA Galleries, New York, Feb. 19 – Apr. 4, 2015.

Follow ACA Galleries on Artsy.