Culture Influencing Art

By Maria Martinez


Paintings of Frida Kahlo, portraits of families, and even paintings of a hit show like “The Office.” Cal State Long Beach student Janette Villafana has painted for different commissioners for four years now.

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Born and raised in Santa Ana by immigrant parents, she started painting at a young age but didn’t get into it until high school. “Painting is my way of escaping any problems,” she said. “That was my Zen.”

Villafana’s paintings are inspired by her culture. There is so much within the Mexican culture—vibrant colors, people, and even religion. When she’s not making art for commissioners, she is offering to draw for the people she surrounds herself with. For instance, she recently saw an image on her social media account and asked if she can do a painting on it. It’s a beautiful candid moment of a grandmother with her granddaughter. “Two different generations, dressed in traditional Mexican dresses. You really don’t see a lot of people our age connecting to our roots anymore,” she said.

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In her fourth year as a journalist with a minr in film and electronics, Villafana tries to make time for her paintings when she has a new client. Her smaller images take her a process of five hours to outline, paint, and add layers. During this process, she always has to have music playing. From cumbias to rock, she enjoys all kinds of music. As a journalist and artist, she’s able to combine her two passions by telling people’s stories through writing and painting. “You’re shining a light on something,” she adds.  

She went through a period of suffering from anxiety and depression; art became an escape for her to deal with these feelings and to help her not sink deep into it. “My art and therapy today has helped me get through all that,” she said. “I encourage anybody that’s going through anxiety or depression to find a medium that helps you.”

On top of everything, Villafana is starting a small business through her social media account. “I feel like I’ve been inspired by women of color, particular Latinas who are taking matters into their own hands,” she said. Latinas in the United States are usually paid just 53 cents for every dollar paid to White, non-Hispanic men, and is why a lot of Latinas are creating their own businesses.

Her plan is to create designs that are inspired by her culture by making affordable t-shirts, stickers, and prints of her paintings. “[It would] eventually grow into something bigger like Hija de tu Madre that started off with jackets and is now doing jewelry,” she said. Hija de tu Madre is a small business that started off on Instagram and is now big for selling their products online. “I want to take my time with this, make sure the quality of stickers and t-shirts are good. I want to make sure that what you’re paying for is worth it.”

If you want to check out Villafana’s paintings and stickers, for now, check out her Instagram @_janette_v.