After a step into El Franco Lee II’s cubicle and a gaze at the unfinished paintings that line the wall, you will realize his art is unique.
As a UH graduate student, Lee conveys the realities of humanity.
“I’m going off of instinct and what feels good to me,” he said.
“My drive is just imagery I’ve had in my head for years.”
Lee’s paintings capture the human struggle by broaching topics that many are afraid to visit.
“James Byrd 1” is one of Lee’s works and depicts the dragging death of the subject in gory detail.
The visual it gives you is derogatory, but so is the hate-filled event it represents.
Also included in Lee’s studio is a powerful message regarding Hurricane Katrina and the racially-charged controversy surrounding it back in 2005.
It portrays the distress of ordinary citizens juxtaposed with the carelessness and callousness of the officers involved who are pointing guns at them while eating sandwiches.
Whether you agree or disagree with the characterization, “Bayou Classic” draws you in. And that is the point, according to Lee.
The aspiring artist uses art to pay homage to his favorite figures in music and sports; he is currently working on a piece that includes all members of the Houston-based rap group Screwed Up Click.
Lee is driven and focused to succeed.
“(I enjoy) the history you can create because it’s layer after layer and blood, sweat and tears. It’s nights and just passion put into building this imagery,” Lee said.
“Even if you get tired of the subject matter you’re dealing with, you’ve got to keep going and make yourself love it as it starts to form the way you’ve been envisioning it in your head.”
As a function of his hard work, Lee’s work has been featured on all three coasts in shows across the nation.
With only three semesters remaining towards attaining his master’s, Lee began teaching fundamentals of art courses at UH this semester.
“I like teaching quite a bit. It took me by surprise,” Lee said.
“I’m driven by watching the students draw and seeing how well they do and how much better they get from the time they start the course.”
Lee hopes to bring a new voice to his community, which he believes has undervalued art as a whole.
“Sad enough my work really doesn’t get to be seen by the people that it can really affect and that it really relates to,” Lee said.
“I love the reaction from the youth because hate it or love it, the people that have been embracing the work have no idea about the context behind it.”