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Painter Uses Sports As a Background for Social Commentary

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By Ben Ateku

Some painters prefer to be abstract and leave it to the audience to figure out what lies between the straight or curved lines. The paintings by El Franco Lee II are much more realistic. He blends the past and the present by placing sports characters and their fans in troubling, yet humorous, social scenes that remind the audience to question America’s cultural journey.

Lee’s exhibition, titled “Liquid Analog,” opened Sept. 10, 2011 at the CentralTrak Exhibition Hall at 800 Exposition Ave. in Dallas. The exhibition runs through Oct. 8. Lee’s works can also be viewed by logging on to www.elfrancosartchives.com.

Tookie Williams Redemption

The Houston native does not shy away from controversial or unsettling subjects. His paintings and subjects illustrate scenes from the hip hop culture turf wars, incorporating popular entertainers and contemporary sports figures.

Lee’s interest in painting goes back to his youthful days when he drew comics for fun. He decided to expand his knowledge by enrolling in classes at the University of Houston.

“While I had been painting by trial and error, being among artists brought my competitive nature out of me,” Lee said in an interview at the exhibition’s opening. The exhibition at the gallery on Exposition Street attracted viewers throughout the evening.

Tom Russotti of Dallas, an artist who visited the opening, praised Lee’s style of addressing difficult social issues.

“Most artists try to escape difficult social subjects and zoom into elitist art forms.” Russotti said. “With most of the characters dressed in their favorite sports attire, Lee demonstrates that sports is the most popular form of theater.”

All Eyes on Jack Johnson

Lee is one of the visiting artists at CentralTrak, the University of Texas at Dallas’ artist-in-residency program. The program provides space for artists to live, work, and exhibit. Artists may spend up to a year in the program.

Lee does not attempt to paint like any known artists, but gets inspiration from personal experiences, family, and the media. In “Tookie Williams Redemption,” he illustrates the ghost of Williams’ somber face towering over contemporary hip hop artists dressed in fashionable sports attire and jewelry as their fans bleed from gun wounds in the background.

Stanley Tookie Williams, a co-founder of the Crips gang in Los Angeles, was executed for murder in 2005. Before his execution, he became an anti-gang activist.

“Some of the hip hop artists misunderstand what Tookie stood for,” Lee said. “He focused on stopping gang violence, but some think they are emulating him when they praise gang violence in their their songs.”

In another painting, titled “All Eyes On Jack Johnson,” Lee addresses America’s journey through racism from the 1930s. Johnson was a successful black sports hero, gaining respect from both blacks and whites.

In the painting, he is walking in the streets chaperoned by two white ladies on either side, a risky thing for an average black man to do when racism was rife in America. In the background, six black teenagers are pounding on a white teenager, a reminder of the recent case in Louisiana that drew national attention.

“Are we dealing with reverse racism now?” Lee asked.

The exhibition offered Pienette Lacour a journey of discovery. Lacour, who attended the showing, said she came from a different culture, and is not familiar with intricate American social issues.
“The paintings opened a window for me. They tell a story on what people in the city feel about each other,” said Lacour.

Alice Gardner, another visitor to the opening, felt she was missing something from the paintings.
“It is all very visceral,” she said. “I am not sure that I follow everything.”

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