One of the more then 200 gates painted by Franco the Great
If you have ever traveled from one end of 125th Street to the other, it would be hard to miss the brightly painted gates depicting life in Harlem. The artist of this series of street art is Franco Gaskin also known as Franco the Great.
When Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968, the riots in Harlem left the area in dismal condition, with a sea of gray security gates protecting the storefronts. Seeing this as an opportunity to create a better environment in his neighborhood, the Harlem Gates were born. When the stores were closed Franco would paint murals of what he hoped for Harlem’s future – more then 200 over the past 40+ years. While there are others off 125th Street as well, here’s a recap of those on 125th Street, photographed in 2011 by Untapped Cities contributor Rembert Browne:
Gaskin came to the United States from Panama in 1958 at the age of 9 to pursue a career in art. It didn’t take long for him to make a name for himself as a muralist and portrait painter. His reputation as an iconic Harlem Artist is known throughout the world and so when DSW Shoes took space on Frederick Douglass Blvd and 125th Street recently, they commissioned Franco the Great to paint an indoor mural. With the new laws requiring open steel gates for shops, the hope is that the few dozen outdoor steel gates that remain can be relocated and preserved.
The author with Franco at his solo show at the State Office Building in Harlem