By Eyanir Chinea

CARACAS (Reuters) - With Venezuela's highest denomination bill now worth less than a stick of gum, one local designer is protesting his country's economic crisis through currency art.

Jose Leon, 24, has been covering the faces of national heroes on the smallest bills of two bolivars - worth one fifth of a U.S. cent at the black market rate - with the intricately-stencilled faces of American superheroes.

"One day, I was paid in two bolivar notes: what a pain! At night, watching the (U.S. superhero) film 'Deadpool,' I decided to draw it on the bills," said the tatooist and amateur cartoonist.

"People started rejecting the two bolivar bills. I travel a lot by bus, and they wouldn't accept them. Not even for a cigarette. Nothing."

Bills in Venezuela have become a serious nuisance after the currency's precipitous fall in value. The largest 100 bolivar note is worth just 10 cents on the black market and people often carry bags full of money for basic purchases.

Leon has been covering the faces of Venezuela's independence heroes including Francisco de Miranda with images from Star Wars to Batman.

After exhibiting his work on Instagram, he received hundreds of reactions and a hashtag was born: #VenezuelaDevaluada (#VenezuelaDevalued). (

"It is a protest against a government that takes away my hopes and dreams," Leon said from Venezuela's second city Maracaibo where his murals adorn city walls.

Looting and food protests are occurring daily in Venezuela, hit by triple-digit inflation and a scarcity of basic goods.

While critics blame 17 years of socialist policies, President Nicolas Maduro says the opposition, business leaders and Washington are sabotaging the economy.

A pro-government website blasted Leon's "childish" work, saying he was replacing homegrown heroes with "Yankees."

(Reporting by Eyanir Chinea; Writing by Sarah Dagher; Editing by Girish Gupta and Andrew Cawthorne)