The lore of El Mesteño, aka Blucifer, and the legendary artist Luis Jimenez who was crushed to death during its making.
by Garrett Grams
“It will forever incite dialogue.” – Michael Hancock (then president of the Denver City Council, now current Mayor of Denver) during the Blucifer’s unveiling in 2008.
Hancock refers of course to the demonic gatekeeper to the Denver International Airport (DIA) affectionately named “Blucifer”. The statue is of blue mustang raised on its hind legs. It stares into your soul with its piercing red eyes as you arrive and depart from DIA.
Nine years have passed since Blucifer was placed at the single entrance to DIA on Peña Boulevard. Through subversion, through public distaste, through its own hell and back, the sculpture has survived and looks to remain an iconic part of the Denver airport and a popular local meme. The story behind this legend is shrouded in a cloud of fact and fiction.
- Blucifer stands 32 feet tall.
- He weighs in at 9000lbs with a reach advantage capable of crushing you to death.
- The piece was commissioned in 1993 for internationally-renowned artist Luis Jimenez.
- The commission paid Jimenez $300,000 with an up-front payment of $165,000.
- Blucifer killed Jimenez in 2006 by severing an artery in his leg and pinning him to the floor.
- Family, friends, and the artist’s staff completed the work in Jimenez’s honor.
- Blucifer was delivered and unveiled to DIA in 2008 in its prominent welcoming position. That’s 15 years later.
- The sculpture has been nicknamed “Blucifer,” “DIAblo,” “Satan’s Steed,” “Denver Doom Horse,” “The Untamed Mustang of the Apocalypse” and “The Blue Stallion of Death.”
- Its true artist-given name is “El Mesteño,” or “The Mustang,” or “The Untamed,”
He is hard to ignore and equally hard not to talk about. After the facts, there is a whole lot of fiction that spread through Denver more effectively than the ephemeral snow. If you’re of the impressionable type, or just love a good conspiracy, now’s the time to tune in.
We’ll start with the eyes.
It has been said that the eyes represent an homage to Luis Jimenez’s father’s neon-sign shop. The rumor is his father did not speak to Jimenez for years after he decided to pursue art instead of architecture. Why he chose red over neon pink or green, or any other color, is unclear.
It has also been mentioned that the eyes were originally supposed to be lasers shooting out into the sky. The airport authorities decided against this before it was unveiled. Because of Jimenez’s untimely death (is there ever a good time for death?), it is hard to know for sure if the eyes signified anything at all.
Blucifer as Blue Star Kachina
In 1963 Frank Waters (primarily a fiction writer) published an account of a Hopi Prophecy named “Blue Star Kachina” handed down by Native American elders through many generations. The account came from a minister named David Young who picked up an elderly Native American along a desert highway in 1958. During the ride, the elder named “White Feather” described the nine signs of the Hopi Prophecy. The ninth and final sign was that of the Blue Star Kachina. The blue star will descend from the heavens, remove its mask, and the fifth world will emerge from the destruction. Some people make the connection that the Blucifer is that very Blue Star Kachina. He merely awaits the day to take off his mask and deliver his apocalypse to the world.
The Philadelphia Experiment (aka The Montauk Project)
A series of books named “The Montauk Project: Experiments in Time” written by Preston B. Nichols describes seeing one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse in his time during The Philadelphia Experiment. Nichols claims to have accessed repressed memories of his experience in The Philadelphia Experiment in which the US government played with time travel. The cover of his first edition book looks eerily similar to the Blucifer sculpture. The Bible claims that the four horsemen of the apocalypse were white, red, black, and pale, so the only connection seems to be that there was a horse. Given that Nichols was also a fiction writer, this particular conspiracy necessitates a stretch of the imagination.
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The Man Behind Blucifer, Luis Jimenez
This story begins with a man named Luis Jimenez—may his soul rest in peace behind Blucifer’s red eyes forever.
Jimenez is the creator of “El Mesteño,” his official name for the blue mustang, outside of DIA. “El Mesteño,” or “The Mustang/The Untamed,” and that was exactly how Jimenez lived his life. He grew up working in his father’s neon-sign shop which gave him the inspiration for Blucifer’s red eyes. As he grew up, his father anticipated a future for his son in architecture, but Jimenez decided his life was better suited for art.
And thank the lord below for that. Before Blucifer, Jimenez had a successful career with various art projects, one of which is currently featured outside the Smithsonian American Art Museum named “Vaquero,” or “Cowboy.”
Notice a resemblance.
In 1993, two years before DIA officially opened, Jimenez was commissioned to create Blucifer. It would take another 15 years before the sculpture would be officially erected. This is where the story truly begins.
The commission paid Jimenez $300,000 to complete his work, $165,000 of it was paid up front, the remaining upon completion. The airport waited and waited, and in 2003, 10 years after the initial commission, they decided to file a lawsuit requesting their up-front money back if Jimenez was not finished by the end of the year. Needless to say, he was not.
The Troubled Artist
Jimenez suffered a life of constant injury. In his early years, a BB gun grazed his left cornea, an event which 20 years was cited as part of the reason for missed deadlines. He eventually got a glass eye to replace the injured eye.
A car accident as a young adult left him with a life-long back injury. Just before he was commissioned for Blucifer, his hands required surgery. His art and his life were created by his hands and over the years of sculpting, they had deteriorated. After the commission, at the age of 55, Jimenez suffered a heart attack.
A glass eye, a broken back, a weakened heart, aching hands, and a sense of looming death plagued the man who created Blucifer from nothing. As apparent in a self-portrait in 1996, three years after the Blucifer commission, Jimenez was vividly aware of his own mortality.
His skull with a glass eye presses through his skin. It would appear as though he anticipated death, maybe could even see it on the horizon riding towards him like the horses of the apocalypse.
Still, Jimenez pressed on. He missed deadline after deadline, missing the airport’s opening, getting sued for being late by ten years, and then counter-suing the airport. The work continued and was nearing completion in the mid 2000’s.
The Fateful Day
On June 13th, 2006, a Tuesday like any other (nope, it wasn’t a Friday the 13th), Jimenez was in his workshop, toiling away on his masterpiece. Using industrial lifts to hoist a section of Blucifer onto the steel armature—it is unclear whether the section was part of the torso or hindquarters—something malfunctioned and lift dropped the piece directly on Jimenez. It pinned him to ground and severed a crucial artery in his leg. There was no one in his studio with him, and by the time the ambulance arrived, Blucifer had bled Jimenez to death.
The Jimenez family–along with the help of family friends, the artist’s staff, and two race-car painters Camillo Nuñez and Richard LaVato–took it upon themselves to honor Luis Jimenez’s legacy and finish El Mesteño. The parts were shipped to California for assembly and then delivered back to Denver to be placed at the airport.
On February 11, 2008, Jimenez’s masterpiece, El Mesteño, The Mustang, The Untamed, Blucifer himself, was unveiled at the Denver International Airport. It’s red eyes glow day and night which may be less intimidating than the original idea of lasers shooting out into the sky. Thick blue veins cover its face, torso, and basketball-sized scrotum hanging just below its tail.
On the day of the unveiling, then Denver Mayor John Hickenlooker gave the formal dedication. “Those eyes are what put the wild in the wild west,” Hickenlooper said during his speech. “Many times [they] are perceived as warding off evil spirits.”
Almost immediately, public opinion turned sour. A Facebook group named “DIA’s Heinous Blue Mustang Has Got to Go,” started attracting thousands of fans and the eye of the media. Yet the city remained steadfast in its desire to keep the statue in place in hopes that public opinion will soften over time. And it has, to a certain extent.
Denver city regulations permit public art to be moved every five years. That meant in 2013 if enough people voiced their opinion the council might be swayed to move Blucifer to a new location, but that is not what happened. The Facebook group accepted the statue’s presence by then and public opinion indeed softened, or perhaps shifted focus onto other issues. The legacy was already too strong.
Today, Blucifer still attracts attention from both newcomers and locals alike, but it is the attention of curiosity and legend rather than the initial distrust and disgust it once incited. Most who see it with fresh eyes still ask the question “What is that?” with hints of suspicion and amusement.
It allows those who know the story, along with a peppering of conspiracy, to elucidate on what has become a Denver legend. There is much to be told, and Blucifer’s story continues to live on.
Blucifer in Pop Culture
The demon phenome is all over the internet. Blucifer has turned from his days of inspiring terror to become a local Denver meme to be celebrated. It won’t be known until the apocalypse comes if his celebrity has infuriated him or has flattered the loveable blue demon.
He has his own twitter account
So he must be alive, right? His handle is @DenverDoomHorse and he loves chaos and destruction.
— Blucifer (@denverdoomhorse) August 16, 2017
Blucifer in memes
“Welcome to Colorado”
Blucifer admits guilt!
Just in time for the holidays …
The Blucifer version of the classic Denver postcard …
Become Blucifer the Demon Horse
Holding steady for nine years, Blucifer has inspired Halloween costumes of all types. Just make sure you attach that veiny scrotum to produce the full effect.
Looking for ways to show how much you love the blue horse? The hype has brought a host of t-shirts for you to strut around in. Just remember that when Blucifer takes off his mask and launches the apocalypse, he might come for you first. Show your Blucifer-strength love for Denver or emblazon his face on your chest.
Denver’s Rising Public Arts Movement
Not everyone loved him when he rose in 2008. There was backlash and disgust, but still, the statue remained. Now, nine years later, Blucifer continues to incite dialogue and has taken on a role of the anti-hero for Denver. The hero is the giant blue bear looking into the Denver Convention Center.
With these two pillars of art in Denver, there has been a rising movement to paint the town with vibrant life. Every painted electric box and mural hanging painted in RiNo and elsewhere throughout the city pays a sort of tribute to the demon god Blucifer.
He watches over the art scene with his hellfire eyes and scarred face with compassion and elation. He played as much a part in pushing the envelope as any piece in the city. As the city took to him, and he to them, the public art movement has continued to grow and evolve, transforming dull spaces into vibrant beauty.
Anti-hero or otherwise, Blucifer’s legend and notoriety have created a discussion about public art that has fueled the public art’s development in Denver. So next time you stop and take a selfie with a piece of street art, remember to say, “Thanks, Blucifer.” When the apocalypse comes, it might just save your life.