Luis Tapia Biography

Luis Tapia




Luis Tapia is a Chicano sculptor who for over 50 years has reinterpreted the 400-year-old legacy of Catholic devotional art in New Mexico as a modern form of cultural and social commentary.

Tapia was born in 1950 in Agua Fria, a small village just outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico, one of the oldest Hispano communities in the US. Today, he is known for transforming the “traditional” New Mexican art of saint making, recasting hallowed religious themes and artistic techniques to address and express current social and political issues, including immigration, addiction, identity, racial injustice, crime, and pedophilia in the Catholic Church. Though initially controversial, his bold, provocative, and often humorous approach elevated Tapia as a trailblazing contemporary sculptor whose works reflect his activist roots and his belief that tradition is alive and evolving.

Inspired by native Spanish-American music and Hispanic civil rights issues, Tapia began to explore his own heritage in the early 1970s, and as a result began carving santos after examining figures in churches and museums around Santa Fe. He received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1980. In addition to carving figures in wood, Tapia makes and restores furniture and constructs and restores reredos (altar screens) for churches in northern New Mexico. Tapia helped found La Confradia de Artes y Artesanos Hispanicos, which has been instrumental in the contemporary revival of Southwest art.

Tapia’s work remains rooted in a local landscape that transcends global cultural and ethnic borders. His sculptures have been widely collected and exhibited in public and private collections in the US and beyond. He has received many honors for his life’s work, including the New Mexico’s Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts, the state’s highest artistic honor. Most recently, in 2021, he was named an inaugural Joan Mitchell Foundation Fellow, one of 15 artists nationwide recognized for their work in contemporary sculpture and painting.