ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Internationally renowned Texas sculptor Jesús Moroles, whose 22-foot-tall sculpted fountain stands at the entrance to the Albuquerque Museum, died in a car wreck Monday night in Texas. He was 64.
Moroles was driving on Interstate 35 near Jarrell, 30 miles north of Austin, when the accident occurred. The Texas Department of Public Safety said the van he was driving rear-ended a tractor-trailer. Moroles died at the scene. The truck driver was unhurt.
Moroles’ work earned him a 2008 National Medal of Arts. He created both monumental and smaller-scale nonrepresentational works in granite.
The sculptor’s signature pieces include his 1987 sculpture “Lapstrake,” which sits in New York’s CBS Plaza, across from the Museum of Modern Art. In Albuquerque, he also designed “The Fallen Friend” piece at the New Mexico Veterans Memorial Park in 1997. His largest work was the 120-foot-tall 1991 site sculpture “Houston Police Officers Memorial.”
“Floating Mesa Fountain,” the 1984 piece fronting the Albuquerque Museum, was one of his first commissions, museum curator Andrew Connors said.
“A year later, he received a commission from New York City, and his career took off from there. Just today, there were probably 30 kids all playing and splashing in his fountain,” Connors said. “They didn’t have a clue who made this. But they celebrated his vision.”
Moroles was the rare contemporary artist who could design edgy works that were embraced by the public, he said.
The artist’s choice of granite as his medium was unusual. The stone is heavy and brittle.
“It kind of chose him,” said Moroles’ partner, Delilah Montoya, an Albuquerque photographer. “He tried marble and wood. At one point, he picked up a piece of granite and started working it. There was dust flying all around, and he got lost in it.
“He could see things in the rock. He saw designs, and he was able to bring out beautiful shapes and forms.
“He would give spirit names to things. He would call it ‘Floating Rock’ or ‘Sacred Space.’ ”
Moroles was born to cotton farmers in Corpus Christi, Texas, where he toiled in the fields before becoming educated at Dallas’ El Centro College and the University of North Texas in Denton. He spent a year studying studio work in Italy in 1980, signaling his commitment with the purchase of his first large diamond saw in 1981. He apprenticed to famed New Mexico sculptor the late Luis Jiménez.
A Vietnam veteran, Moroles appreciated Asian art.
“You can see that Asian influence in his work, that Zen look, that simplicity of form,” Montoya said. “He got a lot of commissions in Asia.”
Those commissions scatter across the globe: China, Egypt, France, Italy, Japan, Switzerland and across the United States.
Moroles was driving north to Oklahoma, where he helmed the first artist’s residency and commission at the University of Science and Arts in Chickasha, said Santiago Nezarez,, the sculptor’s studio assistant in Rockport, Texas.
He was the primary designer of the school’s Coming Together Park, teaching granite design and installation techniques. Moroles had shipped his latest creation, “Spirit Inner Columns,” a massive piece with 15-foot-high columns, to the Hall Arts project in Dallas. He had returned home Sunday night to attend jury duty on Monday.
“He was driven,” Montoya said. “He lived in his van. He was on the road 200 days a year trying to get his commissions done or to go to a reception or a gallery opening.”
His work has been included in more than 130 one-person exhibitions, including at LewAllen Contemporary and Altermann galleries in Santa Fe. His work is in the permanent collections of the Albuquerque Museum, the New Mexico Museum of Art, the Dallas Museum of Art, Houston’s Museum of Fine Arts and in the National Museum of American Art at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.
Moroles’ survivors include his parents, Jose E. Moroles and Maria Moroles of Rockport, Texas.
A memorial service is tentatively scheduled for this weekend.