Barbara Rivera paints her culture


Photo Courtesy of Sebastian Rivera

Rivera’s paintings, filled with vivid hues, reflect her journey and the people, places, and cultures that she loves.

Sophia Fang, Arts Writer

Painted in vibrant colors, dancers in cultural dress are often the subject of Barbara Rivera’s paintings. The energy of life in her artwork is undeniable, as is the strong presence of her Mexican and Cuban roots. 

Growing up in a Mexican and Cuban household, she was constantly surrounded by both cultures and developed a strong admiration for both. Her interest in art began when she was in grade school and continued on well throughout the years. 

With full time jobs as a high school secretary but also as a mother, Rivera persisted in painting everyday after work, but it was not until her three sons went to college that she began dedicating more time to her career as an artist.

Being self-taught never hindered Rivera nor her art. In fact, Rivera has nearly five thousand followers on social media and manages multiple stores for her art. She also has showcases at arts festivals, most recently appearing at the Latino Arts Festival in Park City, Utah. 

Finding inspiration is a challenge for some artists. This does not apply to Rivera, who aims to paint something new every week. Luckily for her, inspiration comes easily. “I try to focus on the beauty that the Latino culture has to offer,” Rivera said. “I love my culture and always try to highlight my Mexican and Cuban heritage.”

She often attends cultural events to find folkloric dancers or mariachis, which are small Mexican bands usually including a trumpeter, guitarist, and violinist. Day of the dead altars are also a significant source of inspiration for her; many of her paintings include the iconic “la calavera,” a skull face paint commonly seen on the Day of the Dead.  

Her paintings have many different subjects, some dancers, others mothers, but they all showcase Latino culture. “[A] huge impact of the whole body of my work is cultural. I love to bring forth and showcase Mexico in all its grandeur.” said Rivera. 

Her models are people from a variety of backgrounds, from family and friends to performers she met at events and festivals. Perhaps this is why her paintings are so realistic and animated. Whether it is childhood innocence or motherly love, Rivera is able to capture the emotion wonderfully.

Her painting, Vanessa in Orange, showcases a woman in a beautiful Mexican dress with la calavera. Likewise, many of her other paintings feature women models clad in vibrantly colored Mexican dresses. In addition, she has also done artwork respecting the famous Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. 

While she enjoys showcasing the beauty of her culture and does so often, she also has painted pieces that bring attention to social issues, such as her painting Summer Camp, showing the cruel reality of the 2018 “zero-tolerance” policy of the Trump administration. 

Once she has an idea of what to paint, Rivera starts with a strong drawing, which she says helps make the painting process much easier. She often works on multiple pieces at once as oil painting, the style she paints in, takes relatively long to dry. 

Her devotion to and passion for painting can be seen in the emotion and energy in every painting she produces. “It’s an innate part of who I am as a human being. I can not separate myself from my painting.” said Rivera. “Every painting is a huge part of myself.” 

Aside from painting, Rivera enjoys making jewelry, cooking, and gardening. She especially loves wearing beaded jewelry of the Cora Indians of Nayarit, Mexico, her mother’s home state. In addition, Rivera enjoys spending time with her dog, a Mexican hairless Xoloitzcuintli. 

Currently, Rivera is working on some paintings of children in cultural dress. She is also preparing for her upcoming solo show in January 2023, Viva La Vida, at the Borrego Springs Art Institute in California. 

Rivera continues to share her story and culture through her paintings and hopes that they will inspire others to share theirs as well. Her art can be found on her website ( and social media (@barbarariveraart). 

For students interested in picking up painting, Rivera offers some sincere advice: “… let your heart lead you. Paint the things that bring joy to your heart. Create because you want to create!”