Seeds: The Organic Sculpture of Luis Jimenez
by James Lilliefors
Sometimes, great art is what we take for granted: the mysterious forms and organic processes that surround us, the enduring genius of nature, with its elusive sense of logic and proportion, its strange beauty, its endless capacity to surprise.
Luis Jimenez’s remarkable new Seeds sculptures remind us of this. They draw the viewer into a world that is both familiar and never fully comprehensible, simple yet inherently wondrous. We marvel at them as we would a rare species of plant or animal.
Jimenez is an engineer by training, and his art has always displayed a singular sense of balance and order. But the laminated steel Seeds series pushes his art to an innovative new level, taking its cue from the patterns of the natural world.
“Nature is always telling us something,” Jimenez says. “It’s up to us to listen and understand what it is. Often that takes time.”
The new series literally began with a seed, fallen from an acacia tree at Jimenez’s office near Miami. Struck by the intricacy of the pod that housed the acacia seed, he used it as his passport to explore an artistic landscape that had intrigued him for years. These spellbinding new sculptures are not just an artist’s abstractions; they’re a translation of nature. A collaboration. In the processing and shaping of laminated steel and the choice and application of vibrant color, we see the artist’s hand; in the finished designs, we see the hand of nature. The sculptures are seamless, both in appearance and intent. There are no straight lines, but rather a fluid series of forms that seduce the viewer, an invitation to look closer, to spend time with these works, to contemplate their mysteries.
“There is mathematics behind every natural structure,” Jimenez says. “Behind every tree, plant, flower, there is a math to it. That always fascinated me. Nature is the great engineer. That’s what makes it interesting.”
It’s a simple idea, but, as Jimenez says, “simple is difficult.” Particularly when the artist is trying to convey a sense of simplicity to his viewers. The quiet triumph of the Seeds sculptures is in how they confront this paradox, rising above traditional abstraction to create a captivating new artistic language. The result is an art that appears wholly organic, as if it were grown into existence rather than manufactured in an artist’s studio. And, in a sense, it was.
Born in New Jersey, Jimenez moved with his family to Colombia when he was three years old (“They didn’t ask me,” he jokes). He was raised near Medellin, Colombia’s second-largest city, and recalls being drawn to nature from an early age. “I spent a lot of time outdoors. We went on weekend retreats that revolved around nature. I grew up loving nature. But also understanding that we need to take care of it.”
Although he cites a lifelong interest in art – Jimenez’s parents collected paintings and sculpture, mostly by local Colombian artists – he never imagined as a boy that he would become an artist himself. That came later. “I was more interested in being successful,” says Jimenez, who comes from a family of engineers.
He studied mechanical engineering at college, in Colombia and in Florida. Eventually he settled in the Miami area where he raised a family and started a company that manufactured and distributed sheet metal products, and a warehouse supply business, Atlantic Rack, which is thriving today. In his mid-twenties, he started creating art as a hobby – wood carvings, paintings, graphics, stained glass, steel sculpture. But it took another ten years before he began to think of himself as an artist. “It was a process. It didn’t happen in a day. I took classes. I tried different things. Art gradually came to take up more and more of my time and my thoughts.” The process continues today, he adds.
In 2009, Jimenez opened an art gallery in the Wynwood section of Miami, and showed his work for the first time. “We needed to have new work every month so I was always getting something ready to show,” he recalls. “It taught me to work faster.”
Luis’ first important work was a four-foot sculpture of a peace sign, the beginning of what would become his Peace series. Inspired by Robert Indiana’s famous “LOVE” sculptures, the Peace series has become his most popular work, with dozens of sculptures produced in various sizes and media. Several have been displayed in public spaces in South Florida, and he recently staged a solo show in Bogota, Colombia featuring the Peace series. “People are attracted to that sign,” he says. “They want to touch it, they want to get a picture with it. It’s very positive.”
Although he adopted what was a well-known, universal image, Jimenez brought his own insights and symmetry to the Peace sculptures. “As an engineer, I look for a perfect balance. I’ve been involved in filling spaces for twenty-five years in my work, so in a way this was a natural extension of what I’d always done.”
The Peace series also allowed him to convey a message through his art. “People say, why peace? In Colombia, we’ve been at war for more than 50 years. It’s touched everybody. My family and friends. It’s not something I take lightly.
“What we see every day on the news is an advertisement for war and for all of the world’s problems. I wanted my sculptures to be an advertisement for peace.”
But even with the success of the Peace sculpture, Jimenez continued to search for new means of expression, experimenting, looking for an art form that would bring him closer to the natural world.
Then, in 2010, he went to Spain, and his art began to take a new turn.
The Evolution of a New Language
Seeing the nature-inspired architecture of Antoni Gaudi in Barcelona had a profound effect on Jimenez. It didn’t change him as an artist so much as it reaffirmed what he’d been thinking, and wanting to do, for years. Gaudi’s organic style – the tree-inspired columns and shell-like spirals – spoke to him about the potential of his own art.
“Gaudi inspired me very much,” he says. “Everything he does is about nature, exactly as it is in nature. He was able to replicate it in his architecture.
“I came back from Spain and knew that I wanted to do something like that,” he recalls. “But I didn’t know what it would be. I wasn’t actively searching, I was thinking about it in the back of my mind. It took a while before I found it – or it found me.”
He recalls walking out into the equipment-storage yard at his office one day and seeing a seed pod from an acacia tree on the ground. “I picked it up and I thought, this is interesting. I knew right away I could make something out of that seed. And it was funny, I hadn’t really noticed them before. I’d stepped on them many times and liked the crunch they made. I had to see it hundreds of times before I really saw it.”
With its complex design, the acacia seed pod interested him as an engineer. But its strange, evolutionary-formed contours also appealed to him as an artist. It took four years of trial and error, though, before he figured out how to translate the seed pod into a viable sculpture.
“I tried a number of different things. Some weren’t practical – we didn’t have the equipment or they were too expensive. Some just didn’t work. But then gradually, the sculptures began to emerge and we continue to refine them.”
With the acacia seeds, he realized, Jimenez had found a perfect subject matter, both visually and metaphorically. They allowed him to create art with a strong visceral appeal that also explored the fundamental cycles of nature: birth, death, regeneration, evolution. From these tiny seeds spring trees that produce products as diverse as food, furniture, fuel, paper, musical instruments and children’s toys. It was a subject that called him (and now calls his viewers) to the natural world, echoing Gaudi’s famous phrase: “Originality is returning to the origin.”
Each sculpture begins with the seed pod itself. “Every Seed is unique,” he says. “They don’t come out of a computer.” Jimenez then works with a team that laser-cuts the laminated steel, molding it into the form of the individual seed pod. The stirring colors of the Seeds reflect the energy of Jimenez’s hometown, Miami.
As with the Peace series, Jimenez sees many possibilities with this new sculpture. So far, the largest in the series is seven feet. But Jimenez is a fan of public sculpture – such as that of Mexican artist Sebastián – and talks of one day creating giant versions of Seeds for sculpture gardens in Europe, Japan and elsewhere.
He sees the new series, as he does all of his art, as a collaboration with the viewer. “They are about what the viewer brings to it and takes away from it .... We are planting seeds of love for Mother Earth,” he says. “I want to give people back something positive.”
Jimenez’s new sculpture is an art that urges us to be patient, to observe, to listen, to discover. Sometimes, what we seek is closer than we imagine, it tells us. Sometimes, it’s right under our feet.