Arts / Museums

The Death that Shook the Art World

Monumental Texas Artist Leaves a Legacy in Stone

BY Catherine D. Anspon // 07.28.15

Jesús Moroles was one of the first artists ever profiled in the pages of PaperCity — appearing in the June 1999 issue in a special feature penned after a visit to the HQ of Studio Moroles in Rockport, Texas, which is also the nexus of the close-knit Moroles family. (Two years later, I returned to Rockport to interview the artist for Art & Antiques.) From the beginning, Moroles was a giant, with tenacious ambition and a drive that came to define his sculpture and trajectory. His global outlook could make the rest of the art world seem small, even petty.

We met briefly when he was in a sculpture exhibition in 1989 at Meredith Long & Company when I worked at the gallery. That same year, I remember trekking on a chartered tour bus to see his towering granite fountains and other monumental creations throughout offices and homes when he was named Art League Houston’s Texas Artist of the Year.

We did not become friends until much later, after my visit to Rockport. (We even dated briefly, but were much better as friends.) He epitomized what was possible for an inner-city minority kid from Dallas who went to Vietnam, came out okay (thanks to being in the Air Force rather than infantry), went to art school post-Vietnam (earning a BFA from the University of North Texas), was mentored by Luis Jiménez and studied in Pietrasanta, Italy, where Michelangelo quarried his stone. With a will as unyielding as the granite he worked, he literally carved out a career that took him around the world.

He was a hero to me, as well as to many others, for remaining true to his Texas roots, giving back to innumerable communities — many art auctions have been distinguished by the presence of a granite Moroles stele — and befriending other artists, whom he often connected with opportunities or recommended for awards. His talent (which was often compared to Noguchi) and imposing yet sensitive granite commissions took him from China to Egypt, Manhattan to Seattle, and earned him a board seat on the Smithsonian American Art Museum as well as the ultimate honor: a National Medal of Arts, bestowed by President Bush in 2008.

A 1990 Moroles exhibition in Houston, at the former Davis/McClain Gallery. Photo by Gary Faye.
A 1990 Moroles exhibition in Houston, at the former Davis/McClain Gallery. Photo by Gary Faye.

When news came this June of Moroles’ death in a car accident outside of Austin, the Texas art world came to a standstill. What remains is a body of work that stands as a minimalist, timeless expression of an attitude and aesthetic that began with the sculpture of the ancient Egyptians — the alpha to Donald Judd’s futurist boxes and stacks, which evoke the omega. Jesús prophetically told me during our Art & Antiques chat, “My time is limited here. I want to leave something more.”

In our PaperCity interview, he said, “I want to … create the feeling of reverence that one encounters in a Zen garden, Chinese temple or Mrs. de Menil’s chapel.” And, indeed, he triumphantly did.

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