The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus


Houston artist leaves mark in Deep Ellum

The modern-day lynching of James Byrd Jr. in Jasper, Texas in 1998 is one of those moments most Americans would want to forget and never revisit. To refresh your memory, Byrd Jr. was beaten and then dragged to death after being chained by the ankles to the back of a pickup truck by three white men.

If you’re one of those Americans who has repressed that nightmare, stay as far away as possible from Houston artist El Franco Lee II.

Saturday night, CentralTrak, The University of Texas at Dallas Artists Residency, opened Liquid Analog, an exhibition of Lee II’s paintings and drawings that will run through Oct. 8. He calls his art “Urban Mannerist Pop,” which is his attempt to set his work apart from “Pop Art” and “Folk Art” by depicting real life events full of human experience through over-stimulating images.

Lee II’s art startles the spectator with vivid images of Byrd’s bloody scalp and severed arm and leg. These shocking images are a common theme in his work.

“It pops at you,” R. E. Cox, a Dallas sculptor visiting the gallery, said.

Lee II doesn’t shy away from controversial and unsettling subject matters. Some of his other pieces depict Hurricane Katrina victims being left to fend on their own by white policemen in Jefferson Parish and a creative take on NBA Hall of Famer Magic Johnson’s fight with AIDS.

He laughs as some people leave the gallery with troubled looks on their faces.

“Maybe I should start warning people that they may not like what they see,” Lee II said.

But for Lee II, that’s the point. If his artwork leaves his audience with an unsettling image, something that will stick with them when they leave, he has been successful.

“I want my art to be hieroglyphics,” he said. “I don’t want people to forget what has happened. I want people to be able to look at my art and see what was going on at this time in history.”

His art is already yielding fruit with viewers like Rachel Obranovich, a teacher at Ursuline Academy of Dallas.

“It’s reflective of the world we live in, specifically race relations,” she said.

Lee II, who spent a month and a half at CentralTrak as a visiting artist, said he’s never seen a place so functional in residency. CentralTrak, located on 800 Exposition Ave. in Deep Ellum,, provides space for graduate students and visiting artists to live and exhibit their art together.

Former graduate student Gabriel Dawe, who spent two years as a resident at CentralTrak, said the direct access to the artist community and interaction with visiting artists like Lee II were invaluable to his career.

“It’s the best platform I could’ve had to launch my career,” Dawe said.

Since his time at CentralTrak, Dawe has had a show at Dallas Contemporary and is having another one in the United Kingdom.

Lee II left a firm imprint on CentralTrak. He doesn’t invite his audience to be indifferent, his work doesn’t allow otherwise. He calls all to revisit and relive some of the most troubling moments in history.

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