Spirit of Texas

Luis Jimenez approaches the intangible by depicting the flesh

This exhibition reveals that drawing has come to be an essential part of Jimenez's art, the very core of his style. His line -- there's nothing quite like it, which is why viewers see all things in it. The strokes tower, bevel, loop and dart. The sureness of his hand is almost infallible. Set down at collision speed, the line's velocity endows his drawings of people and animals with a smoldering intensity that is pronounced, arresting and inescapable. In Vato Loco con su Wisa (Barrio Guy with Girlfriend) (1994) and Cholo with Lowrider Van (1993), Jimenez's line does not describe the image; it embodies it.

He deals with the tension between that which seems ephemeral and yet is still powerfully imagined. While driving near Santa Fe, Jimenez came upon a coyote that had been hit by a car. Her back broken, she howled in pain. Jimenez had no gun, so he killed her with his hands to end her suffering. And then he drew her. In the sensitive portrait, he isolates the coyote's head as if severed at the neck. We see her soft muzzle and large pointed ears. Her body hangs limp by its legs, the abdomen a gaping wound, but a vital grace comes through Jimenez's variegated strokes of color and bristling line.

Similarly, Jimenez's delicate portrait of his father, moments before death, fairly vibrates with a brave and urgent expressiveness. A series of hand-colored lithographs from 1995 shows Jimenez grappling with his own issues of mortality. Much like the trapped coyote, the artist had to come to terms with the total loss of sight in his left eye. The tension between spontaneous gesture and emotional restraint heightens the sense of psychological intimacy; Jimenez increasingly portrays himself with wolflike features.

It's this quality of desperation, of hanging on by one's fingernails, that gives Jimenez's work its continued resonance. To face one of his drawings or sculptures is to open vast areas of feeling, to recognize something about ourselves and our culture. If anything, Jimenez's sculptures, drawings and prints take hold of us because they acknowledge that the body is intact, whole, energetic, responsive, alive.

"Working-Class Heroes: Images from the Popular Culture"is on view through March 28 at Blaffer Gallery, University of Houston entrance no. 16 (off Cullen Blvd.), (713)743-9528.

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