in RUMBO Newspapers
Dallas, Austin, South Texas)
CLICK ON IMAGE
the cover of ¡Ahora Sí! - March 2005
American-Statesman's Spanish Edition)
Note to doodlers, scribblers and would-be artists:
Ditch the "learn to draw" class you saw on that
late-night infomercial and stick with the DIY method. With a stroke of good
luck, you could
end up like Paco Felici. The self-taught,
Austin-based artist is drawing a huge following
statewide and nationally for his simple
latex-on-plywood paintings. Born in Brazil and
raised in Latin America and Africa, the
well-traveled Felici marries foreign cultures with
American commercialism in works like Gum
Stix, which features images of instantly
recognizable but renamed chewing gum packs
("Big Red" becomes "Big Rojo," for example,
while the familiar "Juicy Fruit" pack is now
"Juicy Fruta"). With his cartoony, multicolored
portraits appearing on book and CD covers and
even in the upcoming flick The Wendell Baker
Story, you'll be seeing a lot of Felici in the future.
Meet him at today's opening reception from 6
p.m. to 9 p.m. at Foxglove Antiques, 1420 West
|The ice cream man cometh: Paco Felici showcases his cartoony
art (like Mexicani, above) at Foxglove Antiques. See Friday.
FRIENDS IN NEED
Paco joined forces with TKO Advertising to create the artwork for
the Central Texas Literacy Coalition's
bilingual public awareness campaign, which includes print ads, posters and
bookmarks. The Coalition reaches
out to 100,000 Cental Texans who need help learning to read.
TKO Art Director James Walker conceived the idea of print ads with minimal
text, depicting figures being "elevated" by the power of words. Paco executed
HE DOES IT AGAIN
Paco has done another album design
for the inimitable Faris Nourallah.
Look for "King of Sweden" at your favorite music store in the late spring
of 2005. He's one of the hardest working men in show biz. Paco's cover art
for "Problematico," Faris' earlier release (see below) was included in numerous
reviews around the world, including the November 2003 issue of Mojo -- one
of England's largest music and entertainment publications.
T E L E V I S I O N L A N D !
Paco is featured in yet another TV profile
-- this time a really cool segment produced by the Telemundo Spanish-language
network that aired throughout Texas. Many thanks
to Paul "Beans" Garcia, an unparalleled photographer, editor, and producer.
This was a really fun project.
Note: You will need Microsoft Media Player
and a fast speed connection to view this MPG.
Click here to see video.
The Dallas Morning News:
By day, Paco Felici links Texas government
and the Hispanic community.
By night, he's a rising folk artist.
By LINDA LEAVELL / The Dallas Morning News
LOCKHART, Texas – Working in the evenings from his cramped
garage, using leftover, mismatched latex paint from home improvement stores,
Paco Felici creates his artwork quickly, often spending no more than 90
minutes on the more elaborate pieces.
He uses color liberally but not literally, with familiar elements such
as egg-shaped eyes, exaggerated noses and full lips.
Erich Schlegel / DMN
Paco Felici works on a painting in his
garage in Lockhart, Texas.
|He paints cultural icons (Dolly
Parton, Elvis, Shaquille O'Neal) and recognizable symbols (the McDonald's
french fries box and Aunt Jemima). That pop influence may be why some
fans liken him to Andy Warhol.
"I would say Warhol with that
happy Mexican influence of the colors of Mexico," says Kathy Johnson,
owner of Pieces of the Past, an Austin gallery that sells his work. "Out
there and big and right in your face."
Mr. Felici's art has been featured
on the cover of a humor anthology and on a Dallas musician's CD.
This artist, however, hasn't quit his day job.
Far from Austin's funky folk art scene, Mr. Felici is the deputy director
for communications in the Texas attorney general's office, where he advises
on issues that affect Hispanics and oversees Spanish-language communication
with the media.
The 34-year-old artist-public servant says he doesn't know where his
career is headed.
"I certainly never pictured myself in this kind of situation that I
would be doing art to begin with, that I would be involved in politics at
a fairly substantial level, that I would be a father, even," he says. "I
think I feel very comfortable in every one of those roles."
Brazil to Plano
Born in Brazil to a pair of Italian electronic engineers, Paco Felici
had lived in Mexico, Africa and Canada by the age of 14. His family then
settled in Plano, where he attended Plano Senior High.
| A graduate of the University
of Texas at Austin with an English degree, he was accepted into UT's comparative
literature program. But after son Rio was born in 1994, he forfeited the
fellowship to become a full-time wage earner in the attorney general's
Under Democrat Dan Morales, Mr. Felici became a specialist on the
Texas-Mexico border and other issues that affect immigrants. He helped
start what became the International Prosecutions Unit and served as the
agency's Spanish translator.
Although most newly elected politicians
clean house, Republican John Cornyn surprised Mr. Felici and asked him
Erich Schlegel / DMN
Artist Paco Felici displays several of his works of art in front of
his Lockhart home.
After Mr. Cornyn was elected
to the U.S. Senate in 2002, Mr. Felici remained to work for Greg Abbott,
Mr. Felici has been helping hammer out Mr. Abbott's policy initiatives
on immigrant fraud, consumer issues and colonias, and helping Spanish-speaking
residents understand Texas law on child support and other concerns.
"Paco is a part of a very large
organization that touches all aspects of the state. But the key point
here is that he has been the leader in the office at helping the agency
... in its efforts to reach out to the Spanish-speaking community and its
efforts to protect the immigrant community," Mr. Abbott says.
In 2000, Mr. Felici came across a book about self-taught contemporary
American artists. Always exposed to art through his travels, and a prodigious
collector of pottery, he felt an immediate connection to the artists, whom
he believed had developed their work "from a place completely devoid of
The moment marked a reawakening of "whatever had been ingrained in
me living in these quirky places."
So he decided to try his hand at painting, although he knew nothing
about being an artist.
"Frankly, I just wanted to decorate some wall space in my own house,
was what propelled me initially," he says.
A pile of potential
A friend saw some potential and took a stack of the large plywood pieces
to Yard Dog Folk Art in Austin. They began selling almost immediately.
"What I liked about them was that they were fun and unpretentious and
really well-done within the scope of his ambition," gallery owner Randy
Franklin says. "They're generally what people call folky. ... It's the kind
of thing people recognize it when they see it. Unmixed colors, a lot of primary
colors, simple imagery."
Early on, Mr. Felici (pronounced fell-EE-chee) figured he should capitalize
on his name and began producing sombrero-wearing men, women with maracas
and Mexican heroes such as Pancho Villa. But he soon decided that style
was dishonest and contrived.
"I think that that's one of the things, perhaps, that has attracted
people to the art is that there is this multicultural influence to it, but
it's not, I think, what you might expect if you hear that there's a guy
near San Antonio named Paco who paints," he says.
Not that his childhood experiences in Mexico don't shape his choices.
One of his favorite pieces is the Mexican ice cream man. And one of his
most famous and repeated ones is Libertad, a take on the Statue of Liberty.
An appearance of Libertad on the cover of the Texas Observer drew the
attention of expatriate Texans at the University of Iowa Press in Iowa City,
who commissioned him about two years ago for a book cover.
Karen Copp, design and production manager, says university presses
often publish serious subject matter whose authors give specific instructions
about how the covers should be portrayed. But she knew she wanted something
more playful for Humor Me: An Anthology of Humor by Writers of Color.
Mr. Felici illustrated the cover with three figures – one with purple
lips, one with blue, another with green skin. "It had everything mixed up,
and it was obviously not trying to portray something realistically," Ms.
Copp says. "It was fanciful."
Ms. Copp then went on to commission Mr. Felici to paint a portrait
of her boyfriend's idol, cyclist Lance Armstrong. And Ms. Copp's boss,
Holly Carver, a Corpus Christi native, hired him for her wedding portrait.
The black-and-silver-haired lady says she came out as a blonde with
a pink face, while her husband has a green face and brown hair. "I'm yours,"
the Spanish words in the portrait read.
"It kind of looks like us, but of course, we're much more boring,"
Ms. Carver says. "I laughed my head off. It's just what I wanted. To be
totally transformed, especially by my favorite kind of art."
Dallas musician Faris Nourallah asked Mr. Felici to illustrate the
covers of his second solo album, Problematico, released on the small Western
Vinyl label, and a yet-unreleased single. Mr. Felici's bold colors perfectly
match his melodic pop, Mr. Nourallah says.
"I love the chunky, happy shapes. I like the fact that he's not trying
to be a Dutch master, that he's comfortable in his own skin artistically,"
Mr. Felici hesitates to say that he'd want to become an artist full
time, because he's intensely motivated to help protect Hispanics from abuses
through his role at the attorney general's office.
"I feel really very good about the work that I've been allowed to do,"
the single dad says. "It helps make a real difference."
Mr. Abbott is more effusive about his employee's talents, saying "no
one can put the package together" as well as Mr. Felici.
"You have to not only speak Spanish, you have to understand and have
empathy with the people you are working to serve," Mr. Abbott says. "You
have to combine that with a knowledge of our government and the way our
system works. And, perhaps most importantly, that has to be driven by a
commitment to serving the public."
With a foot in both the Hispanic and Anglo worlds, Mr. Felici says
he likes being part of the "cultural conversation" taking place between
both places. And he's candid enough to acknowledge that some people buy
his art just because it's funny or it matches their décor – not
because they've found some deeper meaning.
"The fact that people have had a positive reaction, sometimes profound
... that's been a validation to make me feel that I'm doing something
hopefully of value."
NEW ALBUM COVERS
Paco has done the cover art for upcoming
projects by musician Faris
Nourallah - the album "Problematico" (Western Vinyl), featuring
15 new songs, and the single "Gone"
Both are scheduled for release in the Fall of 2003.
THE SAN ANTONIO CURRENT
Cover Story: A deliberate liberation in latex paint
By John Ewing
'Outsider' is the current label for self-taught artists, but
it's an odd fit for one as cosmopolitan as Paco Felici. Born in Brazil
to Italian parents, the 32-year-old painter grew up in Mexico, Algeria,
Canada, Egypt, and Texas. He brings this worldly point of view to the
deceptively simple works now showing at W.D. Deli. Though self-taught,
the artwork of Austin-based Felici is more populist than folk. His large,
cartoon portraits ease the tensions of cultural difference with their bright
colors and uniform style.
Felici's best-known work is the spiky-crowned Libertad. She is
a young, hip Lady Liberty whose multi-culti familia includes Tio Sam.
Gorbachev and El Rey (Elvis) could be kinfolk, as well, with their bulging
eyes, full lips, and other distinctive features that make up Felici's graphic
shorthand. Though repetitive, this flat-face formula is surprisingly expressive
and thickly outlined with subversive humor. African American Gothic, for
instance, recasts Grant Wood's classic painting with the contentious, black
icons of Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben.
- By Paco Felici
Though less familiar to viewers,
Krispy Kreme also uses the portrait format to foreground an overlooked
subject. In his uniform and cap, the young man is Felici's nod to the
African Americans pictured in the kitchen backgrounds of old photographs
that decorate the chain of donut shops. Again, the theme of liberty
is a subtext that Felici addresses with the special insight of an immigrant.
"Liberty for everyone in our society is messy and imperfect," notes the
artist, "but it's something fundamental that we aspire to, overtly or
Made quickly with latex house paint on plywood, Felici's portraits
embrace the materials of traditional folk art, but the more contemporary
influences of pop art and global advertising shape their content. That
may be the reason why populist phenoms like MTV and Oprah Winfrey's
Harpo Studios have purchased Felici's art for their corporate collections.
Despite references to more mainstream figures like the late Tupac
Shakur, Felici claims a reverence for true outsider artists like Mose
Tolliver and Howard Finster. Straddling the mainstream and folk camps,
the artist is comfortable selling his work in folk galleries such as Austin's
Yard Dog as well as through his own web site (www.pacof.com). He describes
the Internet as an important new element in outsider art, a place where
the young and self-taught are setting up shop and interacting.
However, some folk traditions can't be beat, like taking the
art right to the people. Felici's biggest score to date owes to one
lucky afternoon showing his paintings in a friend's Blue Star parking
space. A writer for the Texas Observer wandered past, and the photos
she snapped of Felici and his work appeared with a cover story on San
Antonio's art scene. That issue made its way to the University of Iowa
Press, whose editors took the trouble to find Felici and commissioned
him to illustrate Humor Me: An Anthology of Humor by Writers of Color.
What's the lesson? If you are hung up on categories like insider and outsider,
the joke is on you.
3.20.2002 "Humor Me" has arrived! Cover
and illustrations by Paco; published by the University of Iowa Press.
here to order online.