FranCisco Vargas recalled as Fresno’s ‘Superman’ muralist

FranCisco Vargas’ “Welcome to Fresno” mural was an icon in the Fresno downtown area. In 2008 he repainted it.
FranCisco Vargas’ “Welcome to Fresno” mural was an icon in the Fresno downtown area. In 2008 he repainted it. Fresno Bee Staff Photo

The life of one of Fresno’s most prolific painters was celebrated Saturday night when friends and family gathered downtown.

Muralist FranCisco Vargas, who painted the iconic Fresno postage stamp mural, died on Sept. 7. He was 64.

Vargas would have been at home at Arte Américas in downtown Fresno, laughing and joking with those who came to honor and share memories of the late painter. Vargas’ longtime friends, former Fresno State professor Ernie Palomino and Rudy Gallardo, wrote a poem and played piano dedicated to Vargas.

“I named this poem ‘FranCisco’ but I should have named it Superman,” Gallardo said. “The guy had amazing energy and it radiated outwards to us.”

Arte Americas director Frank Delgado said that the memory of Vargas will live on long after his passing. A mural will be commissioned across the street in Vargas’ honor.

“I want his daughters and mom to know how much that we all felt for their son and their dad,” Delgado said to a crowded room. “All the knowledge that FranCisco had, it’s going to take four people to carry this project through, but we are going to carry it through.”

Vargas, who was a fixture of Fresno’s art scene, completed the stamp mural last year at Tuolumne Street and Van Ness Avenue downtown, covering an entire wall of The Business Journal building. The work was designed in the form of a postage stamp, with images of many Fresno icons.

He was also the artist behind the “Welcome to Fresno” mural at 746 Broadway and one that was a work-in-progress at Bitwise South Stadium.

Vargas was named artist of the year at the Hispanic Heritage Awards ceremony on Sept. 17, 2014, at Arte Américas. The awards were hosted by Assembly Member Henry T. Perea, D-Fresno, in celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month.

Vargas is survived by daughters Serena Vargas and Christina Vargas Betrand; and his mother, Della Chacon.

“He was a storyteller, he loved to read and he gave me the greatest gift of all – his time,” Bertrand said. “He was so rich with his knowledge and his wisdom with his words and with his art. He taught us to love what you do.”

Megan Ginise: 559-441-6614