Jesus Castañeda practices art out of his studio located in our very own Inland Empire. His art has been housed in museums across California and Mexico, and a painting of his can even be found at the Chicano Student Center on campus. A mural created by Castañeda resides in the Cesar E. Chavez Community Center on University Avenue in Riverside as well.

His artwork grows from the history of his family. Castañeda comes from a long line of innovative artists. The Castañedas originated in Zacatecas, Mexico. The family of eighteen was raised by Nicolas Castañeda, a musical genius who wanted to share his talents with the world. He would have his sixteen children practice instruments on a daily basis and each ended up with their hands in the music realm when they got older. Additionally, Nicolas conducted various music classes for the youth of Zacatecas, which spawned gifted musicians who became renowned mariachi band members. Nicolas’ creative endeavors motivated Jesus to pursue a career in the arts fully.

A piece dubbed “Mariachi Breakdown” features three mariachi members pushing a stalled car in the suburbs. The three mariachi band members happen to be based on Jesus’s father and brothers. Jesus’s father, Antonio Castañeda, practices music every day as the mariachi instructor in the Riverside Arts Academy. The painting comes from a photo taken by Jesus when he was working with his musical family. The acrylic painting debuted in the community exhibit at the grand opening of The Cheech.

“Mariachi Breakdown” captures a single moment in time where a group of mariachis are doing something the audience isn’t accustomed to. Most paintings of mariachi display them playing music in restaurants or grand stages, but Castañeda’s piece offers the viewer a new perspective by placing the dressed-up mariachis in a mundane situation. The mariachis were on the way to a gig and had no choice but to push their car along the road. Their actions invoke fragments of determination, and the piece resembles a symbol of hard work.

“Healing Heart” presents a vivid depiction of a heart that is built around bright breaches of reds, whites and pink. The first iteration of the painting saw a visual manifestation of the heart of Riverside. However, as time went on, the heart became a key motif in the Castañeda family. Jesus’s Grandpa Antonio was diagnosed with heart defects at the age of eighty-nine. Antonio was expedited to emergency open-heart surgery. The operation ended up being successful, giving Antonio a zipper chest scar.

Jesus started a series of heart paintings that ranged in style and configuration. Jesus calls the series “Healing Heart” because each time he painted one, he felt that the painting was actively helping his grandpa Antonio heal up from his surgery. After heart surgery, there was a long road to recovery. The heart embodies Antonio’s resilience throughout the surgical recovery process.

“Victoria’s Rabbit” is a painting of a stuffed pink bunny toy. The pink plush belongs to Jesus’s six-month-old daughter, Victoria Castañeda. The painting occupies the center of Jesus’s living room. The rabbit lays in a mosaic current of purple, yellow, red, blue and green. Jesus wanted to visually represent the early days of fatherhood. The piece captures how he was happy every day as he took care of his newborn daughter, creating a time capsule of the joy he felt from his first few months of fatherhood. Jesus hopes to integrate his daughter more frequently into his art because she is his inspiration.

Family is an important staple of Castañeda’s line of work. The ties to his family extend an emotional connection to his paintings. Castañeda only produces pieces that he finds meaningful. Every single piece of his has a story that relates back to his personal life. His personal connection to the work gives a higher purpose to his creations.

To view Castañeda’s work, follow his Instagram @exoskeletal27.