Tacoma Art Museum

Tacoma, Washington

(206) 272-4258



Working Class Heroes: Luis Jimenez and Images from Popular Culture


End of the Trail (with Electric Sunset), 1971, Fiberglass, electric lighting, 84 x 84 x 30 inches

The major spring exhibition at the Tacoma Art Museum is Working Class Heroes: Luis Jimenez and Images from Popular Culture which opens Friday, April 10 and runs through June 21 on the first and second floors. It features seven of Jimtnez's huge fiberglass sculptures, for which he is known through public art commissions throughout the United States, sculptural maquettes, and drawings and prints in his vigorous yet graceful drawing style. This is the first touring retrospective of the work of Luis Jimenez, one of the country's most celebrated contemporary Latino artists, and covers thirty years of his work, from 1967 to 1996.


Man on Fire (detail), 1969, fiberglass with urethane finish, 89 x 60 x 19 inches


In both his sculptures and works on paper, Jimenez's art affirms the vitality of everyday life and a true empathy for his subjects. His work draws from numerous influences: his childhood experiences in his father's neon sign shop; the WPA mural tradition of the Depression era that heroicized labor; the Baroque tradition of emotionally expressive sculpture; and the graphic traditions of early 20th century Mexican art. The street culture of the Southwest - low riders and flirtatious encounters - is frequently his subject.

Fascinated with American popular. culture - cars, music, and dance - he made his first fiberglass sculptures in the early 1960s. He constructs these large sculptures to heights of seven to ten feet or more and refines their surfaces until smooth and luminous. Then he paints them in vibrant urethane colors. His figures, recalling the Baroque style of twisting, stretching poses, embodies the physicality of everyday experience, whether at work or play. From the toiling Sodbuster (with his pair of oxen, twenty-four feet long!) to the celebrating Fiesta Dancers, the artist transforms the ordinary into the heroic.

By the end of the 60s, Jimenez began turning his attention to the history and traditions of the Southwest to honor the Mexican and Mexican American contribution to North American culture. His sculptures Border Crossing and Southwest Pieta give Latino subjects the formal iconography of traditional Christian imagery. Vaquero reminds us that the American cowboy is Mexican in origin. In many other works, he replaces the fabled Western landscape of emptiness and violence with a brighter, more humane West of people and animals that live in harmony together. These include howling wolves, twisting alligators, and reveling Honky Tonk dancers.

The artist shows a different side of his vision in a series of watercolors, pencil drawings, and prints. In portraits of family members and friends, and self portraits, Jimenez reveals a contemplative and introspective side, while continually demonstrating his superb draftsmanship.

Luis Jimenez will visit Tacoma to celebrate Cinco de Mayo at the Tacoma Art Museum with a Gallery Talk, Tuesday evening, May 5, at 7:30 pm. A public reception for the artist will be held at 6:30 pm. The event is free with regular Museum admission. A free tour of the exhibition will be held Friday, April 17 at Noon with TAM Assistant Curator Greg Bell.

Working Class Heroes is orgcmized and toured by ExhibitsUSA, a national division of Mid-America Arts Alliance. In Tacoma, the exhibition has received generous funding from the Ben B. Ctreney Foundation, The Allen Foundation for the Arts, Frank Russell Company, The Gottfried and Mary Fuchs Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts.


Search for more articles and essays on American art in Resource Library. See America's Distinguished Artists for biographical information on historic artists.

This page was originally published in 1997 in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information.

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