If you’ve spent any time in Durham, you have certainly run across the artwork of Luis Franco — either at CenterFest, at LabourLove Gallery, at Hayti Heritage Center, or at pretty much any restaurant…
This iconic visual activist has developed a profoundly reciprocal love with the Durham community. A graduate of North Carolina Central University, Franco has been using his artwork to stalwartly spark conversations about social equality in Durham for over 15 years.
Franco’s visual activism stems from his urge to sustain justice and open up the space for truth to prevail. To catch your eye, Franco uses a bold and engaging aesthetic that melds pop art, popular Latino and Asian food products, hip-hop, funk, and iconic cultural revolutionaries. The characters and images he creates grab more than your attention — they spark consciousness.
Folks who would never set foot in a gallery eagerly gobble up Franco’s vibrantly colorful images on posters, buttons, and prints. But do not mistake the popularity of his artwork as a sign that his work is simplistic. Chris Vitiello, another staple in the Durham art community as one of the few remaining art critics, praised Franco’s work in the Indy Weekly:
[His] neon-tinted prints of Goya green pigeon peas and red kidney bean cans, a smart updating of Warhol’s Campbell’s soup concept, more subtly implicate racial oppression. Franco has the graphic artist’s knack for combining humor and critique in a single iconic image.
Although he displays work at local art collectives and galleries, he most enjoys showing his work in cafes and restaurants. In restaurants, “regular people” can engage with the artwork without the “fine art” distinction that often distances people in the gallery setting.
He is more interested in connecting with people, in sparking a dialogue, than being considered a “fine artist.” So he goes where the people are.
Despite the demands of his day job as a graphic designer at SAS, you know his booth will be set up at any local arts event or festival. He is a reliable presence in the Durham community. And he will assuredly talk to anyone who approaches him.
In those conversations, there isn’t an ounce of insincerity in his passion for promoting social equality through art and empowering young artists to do the same. It is because of this extraordinary blend of vision, reliability, and sincerity that the Durham community supports him so wholeheartedly in return.