Luis Jiménez


Luis Jiménez
Modeled 1980, cast 1990, Mexican American (born 1940, El Paso, Texas)
Cast fiberglass and epoxy 16 1/2 ft. high
National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution
Gift of Judith and Wilbur L. Ross, Jr., Anne and Ronald Abramson, Thelma and Melvin Lenkin

Click on the image for a larger view (50K), or click here for the largest view (99K).

Another view of the work is available on the National Museum of American Art server.


Biographical Background

Luis Jiménez grew up in El Paso, Texas, within a strong crafts tradition; one grandfather had been a glassblower in Mexico, another was a carpenter who immigrated from Mexico after 1910.

Jiménez's father, a widely known and inventive neon-sign maker, apprenticed his son in his own studio. Jiménez studied art and architecture at the University of Texas, receiving his bachelor of fine arts degree in 1964. After a brief sojourn in Mexico, he began teaching art in an El Paso junior high school. His teaching career abruptly ended when, as the result of an automobile accident, he was temporarily paralyzed from the chest down.

After moving to New York in 1966, Jiménez began producing painted fiberglass figurative works. During the course of a five-year stay, his activities also included recruiting children for Head Start and supervising youth board activities for neighborhood centers.

Now living in Hondo (a small town in New Mexico), Jiménez continues to make heroic public art inspired by the lives of everyday people.

Cultural Context

In the 1960s Jiménez traveled to Mexico to reaffirm his Mexican ancestry as well as his commitment to the type of figurative art found in the murals of Mexico City. One of the reasons Jiménez's art is often compared with that of artists such as Diego Rivera and Thomas Hart Benton is that he shares the same social concerns for working-class people and those who have suffered from various forms of discrimination.

Because of his identification with community values, Jiménez has created public sculpture that seeks to eliminate elitism and command attention from all segments of society. By elevating common deeds to the heroic, he attempts to change the way society views itself. Vaquero captures the excitement of bronco busting in a style reminiscent of Frederic Remington and questions widely held historical beliefs. In addition to historically reevaluating the cowboy legends, the glassy finish of Vaquero allows it to be examined within yet another context -- that of commercial advertising as found along modern city streets.


Jiménez creates public sculpture using a vibrant, contemporary medium -- fiberglass -- cast around steel armatures and airbrushed. Before creating these larger-than-life pieces, Jiménez develops and reworks his ideas in detailed drawings, cutouts, and small-scale models. After casting and joining a series of molds, Jiménez painstakingly airbrushes layers of color on the fiberglass surface, creating a glossy, bright plastic finish that enhances the realism of his sculptural forms. Because fiberglass with an epoxy coating withstands the extremes of winter and summer weather, it is an ideal medium for an artist creating multiple editions of a singular work for different parts of the country. Vaquero can be seen both at the National Museum of American Art in Washington, D.C., and in the heart of a barrio in Houston, Texas.


Reaffirming the past

Much of what we consider integral to the American West had its origins in Mexico. With Vaquero, Luis Jiménez reaffirms the significance of Mexican contributions to this aspect of American history by stripping away popular stereotypes and creating monumental testimony to the Mexican vaquero, one of the original frontier cowboys.


Horses and cattle introduced to the Americas by the Spanish.

c. 1600s-1770
Vaqueros bring cattle north from Mexico into Texas, California, and other parts of the Southwest.

England's thirteen North American colonies revolt. In 1776, the Declaration of Independence is signed.

Father Miguel Hidalgo declares Mexico's independence from Spain.

Mexico wins independence from Spain, becoming the Republic of Mexico. Immigrants to Mexico begin widespread colonization, resisting control of Mexican government.

Mexican vaqueros travel to Hawaii to train the paniolo (Hawaiian cowboy).

Texas wins independence from Mexico.

Texas becomes 28th U.S. state. The term manifest destiny is used to justify the annexation of Texas.

Mexican-American War. Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.

End of U.S. Civil War (1861-65). Cowboys increase in western states as former soldiers, seeking work, move west.

Barbed wire invented, providing a cheap alternative to wooden fences.

U.S. Congress institutes immigrant quota laws. Border Patrol established to monitor and restrict entry of Mexicans.

500,000 Mexicans forced out of United States and deported to Mexico.

Luis Jiménez born in El Paso, Texas.

Mexican and U.S. government permit braceros (Mexican workers) to work seasonally on U.S. farms and ranches.

César Chávez's United Farm Workers join Delano (California) grape strike; Chicano civil rights movement strengthened.

U.S. Immigration Reform and Control Act gives legal resident status to immigrants and possibility of citizenship.

Vaquero created


J. Beardsley and J. Livingston. Hispanic Art in the United States (New York: Abbeville Press, 1987).

M. Davis. Mexican Voices/American Dreams (New York: Henry Holt, 1990).

L. Lippard. Mixed Blessings: New Art in a Multicultural America (New York: Pantheon Books, 1990).

J. Quirarte. Mexican-American Artists (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1973).

R. Slatta. Cowboys of the Americas (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1990).

Discussion Questions & Activities


Elementary Discussion Questions

Elementary Activities

Middle School Discussion Questions

Middle School Activities

High School Discussion Questions

High School Activities

Ordering Information

This material originally appeared in Multicultural Art Print Series: Mexican-American Art, © 1994, the J. Paul Getty Trust.

You are here:
ArtsEdNet | Classroom Resources | Curriculum Ideas | Multicultural Art Prints | Mexican American Art

Home | Search ArtsEdNet | Comments | Help

Getty Education Institute for the Arts

© 1996 J. Paul Getty Trust