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 Paco Felici  (1970 - )

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Lived/Active: Texas      Known for: pop art, iconic-ironic portrait

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Ad Code: 4
Paco Felici
An example of work by Paco Felici
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following, submitted January 2004, is from the artist:

Paco Felici (b. 1970) is a self-taught artist of a young generation. His bold works are also regarded as a crossover between U.S. pop art and Latin American folk art.

In the last two years his work has appeared at the Folkest art fair and exhibition in Atlanta, Georgia. Renditions of his paintings of musicians were recently on exhibit at the House of Blues venue in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. He is also known for representational folk art renditions of commissioned portraits.

Paco's most characteristic works echo the themes of liberty and self-determination as embodied through American icons. Such works often entail bold and bright renditions of the Statue of Liberty, Uncle Sam, and civil rights advocates that include the late Rev. Martin Luther King and Jesse Jackson. He also applies his ironic touch to real and invented advertising personalities such as Uncle Ben, Aunt Jemima, and Colonel Sanders.

Paco's artwork was featured on the cover of the July 2001 issue of the "Texas Observer" - a bimonthly arts, politics and entertainment magazine. He also did the cover art and illustrations for "Humor Me: An Anthology of Humor by Writers of Color" to be published in the spring of 2002 (University of Iowa Press).

Felici's clients include executives of MTV and Comedy Central Television of New York City as well as HARPO, Oprah Winfrey's production company in Chicago, Illinois. His work may also be found in the art collection of the University of Iowa.


Cover Story: A deliberate liberation in latex paint


By John Ewing 05/16/2002

'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-cultural 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.

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 sub text 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 not"

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 phenomenoms 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. . . . 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.

San Antonio Current 2002
The following, courtesy of Debbie Mahrer, was published in the "Dallas Morning News", May 11, 2004.

"Paco's Perspective"

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 minute son the more elaborate pieces.

He uses color liberally but not literally, with familiar elements such as egg-shaped eyes, exaggerated noses and full lips.

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 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."

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 office.

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 to stay.

After Mr. Cornyn was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2002, Mr. Felici remained to work for Greg Abbott, another Republican.

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 pretension."

The moment marked a re-awakening 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 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 peopleto 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 Libert ad 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 pinkface, 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 coversof 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 tobe a Dutch master, that he's comfortable in his own skin artistically," hesays.

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 throughhis role at the attorney general's office.

"I feel really very good about the work that I've been allowed to do," thesingle dad says. "It helps make a real difference."

Mr. Abbott is more effusive about his employee's talents, saying "no onecan put the package together" as well as Mr. Felici.

"You have to not only speak Spanish, you have to understand and have empathywith 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 servingthe 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 becauseit's funny or it matches their décor not because they've found somedeeper 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 hopefullyof value."
Folk Fest - Atlanta, GA - (2000, 2001, 2002)
"Electricity and Me" - Gallery Lombardi - Austin, Texas (2002)
Yard Dog California Exhibit - Los Angeles, CA (2001)

Susan Dombrowski Gallery - "Notable Folks" - San Antonio, TX (2000)
Blue Star Art Space - San Antonio, Texas (2000)
"Lubed" - Austin, Texas (2001)
"Art By Paco" - HDMG - Minneapolis, MN (2001)
"Hecho en U.S.A." - Pieces of the Past - Austin, Texas (2001, 2002)
Southtown Marketplace - San Antonio, Texas (2001, 2002)
Wet - Austin, Texas (2002)
WD Deli - San Antonio, Texas (2002)

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