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

Creative People

The Rise Of Tide Design

The Melbourne furniture makers expand their range, handcrafted in their Huntingdale workshop.
1.56

Inside Look

Monet: Impression Sunrise Comes To The National Gallery Of Australia

An exclusive look at the National Gallery of Australia's new exhibition 'Monet: Impression Sunrise', starring the painting that started the
Lucy Feagins
  17 hours ago

Shopping

New 'Textural' Rugs And Cushions, From Argentina All The Way To Byron Bay

Add some texture to your home with bold new rugs and cushions from Byron Bay based homewares brand Pampa.
Miriam McGarry
  9 hours ago

Architecture

A Home Designed For Introverts

Breathe Architecture create a 'restorative fortress' home for two introverts in Surry Hills, Sydney.
Miriam McGarry

News

An Awe-Inspiring Living Wall Is Unveiled In Melbourne

Melbourne-based designer Adam Cornish and Junglefy bring clean air to Denfair.
Elle Murrell
  10 hours ago

Travel

Where To Explore, Eat + Unwind In Vibrant Marrakesh

From tranquil riads to bustling cafes, Tigmi Trading's guide to the ochre city at the foothills of the Atlas Mountains.
Danielle McEwan

Architecture

Subtropical Modern In Sanctuary Cove

An award-winning home on the water's edge in Sanctuary Cove, south of Brisbane, by Justin Humphrey Architect.
Miriam McGarry

Architecture

The Ultimate Family Beach House On Stradbroke Island

Architects Gabriel Poole and Tim Bennetton take on a challenging beach house project (with a few surprises!)

News

Basking In The Glow Of ‘Nightshade In The Sun’

Artist Heath Newman shares his latest exhibition, a ‘collection of ethereal abstraction’ on show at Saint Cloche from June 19th.
Miriam McGarry

News

Kip & Co Teams Up With The Lost Dogs' Home

The local homewares label have made a new range of accessories for your puppy pals to support a wonderful cause! 
Sally Tabart

Creative People

The Ko-Working Space!

Karina van de Pol and Olivia Fleetwood take us on a tour of their incredible new creative studio and coworking space in Geelong.
Miriam McGarry
  7 hours ago

Homes

The Impossibly Chic Chyka Weekender!

The Mornington Peninsula home of media personality, entertainer extraordinaire, and entrepreneur Chyka Keebaugh!

Community

Many Hands Come Together To Support Women From Refugee Backgrounds

Melbourne social enterprise Merchant Road launches a new initiative to improve employment opportunities for women from refugee backgrounds -...
Elle Murrell

Food

Shannon Bennett's Steamed Snapper With Chermoula + Miele GIVEAWAY

Making use of his Miele steam oven, the acclaimed chef shares a fish dish he prepares at home.
Shannon Bennett

News

Revealing ‘Olympia’ – Into The Studio With Laura Jones

A diaristic show from the celebrated painter at Olsen Gallery in Sydney.
Miriam McGarry

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

News

An Awe-Inspiring Living Wall Is Unveiled In Melbourne

Melbourne-based designer Adam Cornish and Junglefy bring clean air to Denfair.
Elle Murrell
  10 hours ago

Architecture

Subtropical Modern In Sanctuary Cove

An award-winning home on the water's edge in Sanctuary Cove, south of Brisbane, by Justin Humphrey Architect.
Miriam McGarry

Creative People

The Ko-Working Space!

Karina van de Pol and Olivia Fleetwood take us on a tour of their incredible new creative studio and coworking space in Geelong.
Miriam McGarry
  7 hours ago

Food

Shannon Bennett's Steamed Snapper With Chermoula + Miele GIVEAWAY

Making use of his Miele steam oven, the acclaimed chef shares a fish dish he prepares at home.
Shannon Bennett

Shopping

New 'Textural' Rugs And Cushions, From Argentina All The Way To Byron Bay

Add some texture to your home with bold new rugs and cushions from Byron Bay based homewares brand Pampa.
Miriam McGarry
  9 hours ago

Architecture

The Ultimate Family Beach House On Stradbroke Island

Architects Gabriel Poole and Tim Bennetton take on a challenging beach house project (with a few surprises!)

News

Kip & Co Teams Up With The Lost Dogs' Home

The local homewares label have made a new range of accessories for your puppy pals to support a wonderful cause! 
Sally Tabart

Creative People

The Rise Of Tide Design

The Melbourne furniture makers expand their range, handcrafted in their Huntingdale workshop.

News

Basking In The Glow Of ‘Nightshade In The Sun’

Artist Heath Newman shares his latest exhibition, a ‘collection of ethereal abstraction’ on show at Saint Cloche from June 19th.
Miriam McGarry

Architecture

A Home Designed For Introverts

Breathe Architecture create a 'restorative fortress' home for two introverts in Surry Hills, Sydney.
Miriam McGarry

Homes

The Impossibly Chic Chyka Weekender!

The Mornington Peninsula home of media personality, entertainer extraordinaire, and entrepreneur Chyka Keebaugh!

Travel

Where To Explore, Eat + Unwind In Vibrant Marrakesh

From tranquil riads to bustling cafes, Tigmi Trading's guide to the ochre city at the foothills of the Atlas Mountains.
Danielle McEwan

Community

Many Hands Come Together To Support Women From Refugee Backgrounds

Melbourne social enterprise Merchant Road launches a new initiative to improve employment opportunities for women from refugee backgrounds -...
Elle Murrell

News

Revealing ‘Olympia’ – Into The Studio With Laura Jones

A diaristic show from the celebrated painter at Olsen Gallery in Sydney.
Miriam McGarry
1.56

Inside Look

Monet: Impression Sunrise Comes To The National Gallery Of Australia

An exclusive look at the National Gallery of Australia's new exhibition 'Monet: Impression Sunrise', starring the painting that started the
Lucy Feagins
  17 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