This website uses cookies to improve your experience navigating our site. By continuing to browse, you are agreeing to our use of cookies.

OK, I understand

The Self-Taught Painter Inspired By His Ethiopian Heritage

Studio Visit

Olana Janfa has already created more than 70 artworks since he first picked up a paintbrush just over six months ago. 

Born in Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, Olana spent his childhood in Africa before moving to Norway as a teenager. After traveling to Australia in 2014 and then returning the following year for a working holiday, Olana fell in love and relocated to Melbourne, where he’s lived for the past three years.

A desire to connect with his Ethiopian heritage first prompted Olana to try painting. Recreating memories and ideas from his childhood in his bold, bright works, Olana has discovered a creative passion he never knew existed.

We visit Olana in his Thornbury studio to hear more about his blossoming practice.

19th March, 2019

Self-taught artist Olana Janfa’s lovely garden shed studio in Thornbury. Photo – Amelia Stanwix.

Olana started painting in 2018 as a way to reconnect with his culture and beliefs. Photo – Amelia Stanwix.

Olana enjoys painting on recycled wood surfaces to make use out of things that would otherwise go to waste. ‘I think it’s beautiful’, he says. Photo – Amelia Stanwix.

‘Waiting For Ideas’ by Olana Janfa. Photo – Peter Tarasiuk.

‘East African Woman’ by Olana Janfa. Photo – Peter Tarasiuk.

‘Have Mercy On Them’ by Olana Janfa. Photo – Amelia Stanwix.

The artist uses a mix of acrylic, oil, and pastels to create his work. Photo – Amelia Stanwix.

Since first picking up a paintbrush 6 months ago, Olana has painted over 70 pieces. Photo – Amelia Stanwix.

Olana at home in his studio. Photo – Amelia Stanwix.

‘I love my space because I can make a mess and feel free. I can listen to the birds and my music. I can look out of the windows and see the trees, see the garden,’ Olana explains. Photo – Amelia Stanwix.

When Olana isn’t painting, he works as a soccer coach for kids. Photo – Amelia Stanwix.

Painting detail on ‘East African Woman’. Photo – Amelia Stanwix.

‘Queen Sheba’ by Olana Janfa. Photo – Amelia Stanwix.

The subjects of Olana’s paintings are often strong women. Photo – Amelia Stanwix.

‘Haircut for man’ by Olana Janfa. Photo – Amelia Stanwix.

Sally Tabart
Tuesday 19th March 2019

‘The more I practiced, the more I started to feel connected to my beliefs and culture.’ –  Olana Janfa.

Reflecting on a life in Africa where ‘poverty is real’, 29-year-old Olana Janfa explains how creative studies were taken less seriously when he was a child living in Ethiopia than more academic fields providing a clear path to university. ‘There’s no system to support you, education is the only way to get out [of poverty],’ he explains, ‘kids in Australia have a lot more freedom to explore art and music’.

Olana distinctly remembers being in awe of the traditional art in the Ethiopian Orthodox church he used to visit weekly with friends and family. He hasn’t returned to Ethiopia since migrating to Norway as a teenager, and the desire to document and reconnect with these early memories of his life in Africa inspired him to pick up a paintbrush less than a year ago. ‘I started painting because whenever I saw images of Ethiopian art, I felt very inspired and wanted to have them in my house,’ he tells.

Recreating memories, places, and ideas from his childhood, Olana has now painted over 70 works since he first picked up a paintbrush. ‘The more I practiced, the more I started to feel connected to my beliefs and culture,’ he says. Images of strong women are also a major theme in his bold, colourful paintings. ‘…in Ethiopia, I saw that the women were hard workers and very strong,’ he reflects, ‘it makes me appreciate how much women do, especially the mums taking care of their family and their kids’.

Working out of his garden shed studio in Thornbury, discovering painting has been transformative for Olana, and an important way for him to create a deeper sense of home. Waking up around 4.30 or 5.00am, he makes a coffee and spends some quiet time alone before going out to the shed to begin painting on the days he’s not working as a kids soccer coach. After a brief stint painting from the sunroom inside his house (resulting in a paint-splattered couch and an unimpressed girlfriend), having a space of his own has afforded Olana a sense of freedom to explore ideas as they come to him. ‘I love my space because I can make a mess and feel free. I can listen to the birds and my music. I can look out of the windows and see the trees, see the garden,’ he explains.

Using a mix of acrylic, oil, and pastels, Olana paints mostly on wood and often rides his bike around the neighbourhood to look for recycled pieces at construction sites. ‘It adds a different energy,’ he explains, ‘I love that I’m giving new life to something that would otherwise be wasted’.

Citing the ‘freedom and DIY spirit’ of untrained American artist Jean-Michel Basquiat ‘as a bit of an outsider to the established art world’, Olana is also creating his own rules as a self-taught painter. Since he started sharing work on Instagram, he’s been overwhelmed by the support he’s received from friends and strangers alike, inspiring him to continue following the path of this unplanned journey, through which he feels he has ‘really found himself’.

This Week

44.06

Podcast

TDF Talks with Street Artist, Rone

Lucy talks with one of Melbourne's most exciting artists about the evolution of his career, and making seemingly impossible things happen.
Lucy Feagins
  10 hours ago

Art

Stephen Baker Presents ‘We’re In This Together’

Melbourne artist Stephen Baker opens a new exhibition in Fitzroy.
Amelia Barnes

News

Join Lindsay At The MOST Glamorous Magazine Launch!

It’s time to pull out your fancy dresses, for a couture gala at The Windsor’s Grand Ballroom to celebrate Lindsay’s fourth issue.
Miriam McGarry

News

Will Studd Makes Cheese Dreams Come True!

Where to find Aphrodite Galotyri – Will Studd’s new northern Greek, spreadable cheese that we CANNOT STOP EATING.
Amelia Barnes

Travel

Is This Private Island Tasmania's Best Kept Secret?

Photographer Kara Rosenlund shares her trip to Tasmania's elusive Satellite Island.
Kara Rosenlund

Art

A Powerful New Photographic Exhibition From Edward Goldner

View stunning images of North West Africa in cinematographer Edward Goldner’s latest photography exhibition, Nājī.
Miriam McGarry

Fundraiser

Robin Boyd Collection Furniture Goes Under The Hammer At Heide!

Register now to bid on one-of-a-kind pieces from the design legend later this month, at Heide Museum of Modern Art.
Lucy Feagins
  13 hours ago

Architecture

An All-Seasons Beach House Designed For The Whole Family

Inside Whiting Architects' Dunes house – a beach house to suit up to 14 family members and all weather conditions!
Amelia Barnes

Interiors

The Dreamiest Kitchens In The World

These incredible Australian kitchens took out four top prizes in the global Sub-Zero and Wolf Kitchen Design Contest!

Homes

A 1980s Beachside Brick Home Gets A Dreamy Renovation

Alex Bennett shares her beautifully renovated family home in Suffolk Park, not far from Byron Bay.

Architecture

An Elegant Extension To This Federation Home

Source Architects turn a regional Federation property into a light-flooded home with a garden pavilion, all within a year!
Miriam McGarry

Family

Alison Bell On The Joys And Humiliations Of Working Mum Life

Ashe Davenport talks with the co-creator and star of 'The Letdown' on ABC and Netflix, about turning her parenting struggles into a hit TV s...
Ashe Davenport

News

Dinner And Show With Ella Mittas And Blackhearts & Sparrows!

Experience a three-course Italian dinner and show in this special event.
Amelia Barnes
  10 hours ago

Gardens

Will Studd's Sub-Tropical Wonderland In Byron Bay

The cheese mogul's New South Wales garden is a vibrant mix of colours and textures.
Georgina Reid
  21 hours ago

Events

Your First Look At 'Flowering Now' In Collingwood

Don't miss the second annual Flowering Now immersive installation – open this weekend only!
Amelia Barnes

View Comments

Similar Stories

Art

The Next-Gen Australian Artists You Need To Know

Australia's brightest young student artists on show at the National Gallery of Victoria and the Art Gallery of New South Wales.
Elle Murrell

Art

The Boundary Pushing Artist Challenging Structural Norms

Challenging the mainstream, with Sydney-based artist Ramesh Mario Nithiyendran.

Creative People

Inside Ben Quilty's Blockbuster Exhibition 'Quilty'

This major survey exhibition on one of the country’s most acclaimed contemporary artists is unveiled in Adelaide, ahead of touring interst...
Elle Murrell

This Week

Art

Stephen Baker Presents ‘We’re In This Together’

Melbourne artist Stephen Baker opens a new exhibition in Fitzroy.
Amelia Barnes

Interiors

The Dreamiest Kitchens In The World

These incredible Australian kitchens took out four top prizes in the global Sub-Zero and Wolf Kitchen Design Contest!

Gardens

Will Studd's Sub-Tropical Wonderland In Byron Bay

The cheese mogul's New South Wales garden is a vibrant mix of colours and textures.
Georgina Reid
  21 hours ago

Fundraiser

Robin Boyd Collection Furniture Goes Under The Hammer At Heide!

Register now to bid on one-of-a-kind pieces from the design legend later this month, at Heide Museum of Modern Art.
Lucy Feagins
  13 hours ago

News

Will Studd Makes Cheese Dreams Come True!

Where to find Aphrodite Galotyri – Will Studd’s new northern Greek, spreadable cheese that we CANNOT STOP EATING.
Amelia Barnes

Architecture

An All-Seasons Beach House Designed For The Whole Family

Inside Whiting Architects' Dunes house – a beach house to suit up to 14 family members and all weather conditions!
Amelia Barnes

Travel

Is This Private Island Tasmania's Best Kept Secret?

Photographer Kara Rosenlund shares her trip to Tasmania's elusive Satellite Island.
Kara Rosenlund

Homes

A 1980s Beachside Brick Home Gets A Dreamy Renovation

Alex Bennett shares her beautifully renovated family home in Suffolk Park, not far from Byron Bay.

Architecture

An Elegant Extension To This Federation Home

Source Architects turn a regional Federation property into a light-flooded home with a garden pavilion, all within a year!
Miriam McGarry

Family

Alison Bell On The Joys And Humiliations Of Working Mum Life

Ashe Davenport talks with the co-creator and star of 'The Letdown' on ABC and Netflix, about turning her parenting struggles into a hit TV s...
Ashe Davenport

News

Join Lindsay At The MOST Glamorous Magazine Launch!

It’s time to pull out your fancy dresses, for a couture gala at The Windsor’s Grand Ballroom to celebrate Lindsay’s fourth issue.
Miriam McGarry

Events

Your First Look At 'Flowering Now' In Collingwood

Don't miss the second annual Flowering Now immersive installation – open this weekend only!
Amelia Barnes

Art

A Powerful New Photographic Exhibition From Edward Goldner

View stunning images of North West Africa in cinematographer Edward Goldner’s latest photography exhibition, Nājī.
Miriam McGarry
44.06

Podcast

TDF Talks with Street Artist, Rone

Lucy talks with one of Melbourne's most exciting artists about the evolution of his career, and making seemingly impossible things happen.
Lucy Feagins
  10 hours ago

News

Dinner And Show With Ella Mittas And Blackhearts & Sparrows!

Experience a three-course Italian dinner and show in this special event.
Amelia Barnes
  10 hours ago

Similar Stories

Art

The Next-Gen Australian Artists You Need To Know

Australia's brightest young student artists on show at the NGV and the Art Gallery of NSW.
Elle Murrell

Art

The Boundary Pushing Artist Challenging Structural Norms

Challenging the mainstream, with Sydney-based artist Ramesh Mario Nithiyendran.

Creative People

Inside Ben Quilty's Blockbuster Exhibition 'Quilty'

This major survey exhibition on one of the country’s most acclaimed contemporary artists is unveiled in Adelaide, ahead of touring interst...
Elle Murrell