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The Mass Media

Reptiles Abound at UMB

Lagartos (“the lizards”) is currently located on the plaza just outside of the Clark Athletic Center. The artist who created the piece, Luis Jimenez, begins his fiberglass sculptures by making dozens of sketches, finished working drawings, and full-scale clay models. To build each model, he constructs a light armature of 1/2″ steel rods, which he covers with metal mesh to create the general shape of the final sculpture. He then manually applies 2-3″ of clay to the mesh, building up the surface of the sculpture like a traditional modeler. Next he makes a fiberglass mold of the whole model, working in sections.

When all of the sections are put together, he has a mold that contains an exact, inverse impression of the clay model. Like a bronze caster or a fiberglass boat builder, he applies a layer of commercial parting wax to the interior of each section. Once the wax hardens, he paints on a water-soluble, poly-vinyl alcohol, which with the wax, prevents the fiberglass and resin from sticking to the mold. He then lines the mold with re-soaked fiberglass and when it hardens, applies two layers of gel coat over the fiberglass to hide its rough texture. He repeats this layering process five times to give the sculpture its structural strength.

Jimenez then removes each of the fiberglass sections from its mold, applies gel coat to the exterior of the fiberglass, and painstakingly attaches the sections together, grinding the joints and sanding the whole piece. Using an airbrush, he applies multiple layers of acrylic urethane paint developed primarily for jet aircrafts. The piece is then covered with three coats of clear, UV resistant urethane, which seals the surface under a gelatinous glaze.

This sculpture is the second in an edition of five casts. The first was painted in more restrained greens and browns, giving the alligators a more life-like appearance. For this cast Jimenez used more reds, oranges, and sea greens to enhance the wildness of the subject. The sculpture measures approximately 10 feet square and weighs nearly 1,500 pounds.

Commentary by the Luis Jimenez

I grew up in El Paso, Texas, which, as an original Mexican city, was built around a central plaza. The plaza was a lively place. I would go there on the bus with my mother and grandmother to take a streetcar across the border to buy groceries in Mexico. The official name of the plaza was San Jacinto, but unofficially it was called Plaza de Los Lagartos or the Plaza of the Alligators. In the center of the plaza was a pond that was surrounded by old elms and ash trees. Someone had donated money to the city to put alligators in the pond. Everybody loved the alligators. They were sluggish fellows who mostly lounged around in the sun.

Over the years, El Paso fell on hard times and the park deteriorated. They cut down the trees and shipped the alligators to the zoo. It was really sad. Then, as part of an urban renewal effort in the 1980s, the city approached me about making a piece of sculpture for the plaza. I said, “Let’s bring back the alligators” and decided to put them in a fountain the city had installed in the plaza. I wanted to give the alligators life and drama, so I entangled them and made them twist and turn like figures in a great Baroque sculpture from the 17th century. The design also made the sculpture a focal point for each of the four roads that led into the plaza. Alligators can actually get up as high as the big one does in this group. They call it tail walking. I got the city to install a mister in the fountain, which made the big fellow and his friends look like they were rising out of a cloud of water.

Courtesy of Arts on the Point