Latina Artist Talks About Her Inspiration Behind Her Dollar Paintings and More

Meet Danielle de Jesus, the 29-year-old Boricua who is dominating Instagram with her paintings on dollar bills. 

MORE: This Latina Artist is Dominating Instagram with her Iconic Celebrity Paintings

The Bushwick-born artist garnered attention after painting a portrait of Lin-Manuel Miranda on a $10 bill. She's gained traction on Instagram for her portfolio of Disney characters and pop culture references but most importantly for her drawings inspired by Puerto Rico's rich history and culture. An activist herself, De Jesus also shines a light on the issues close to her heart such as resisting gentrification. In three words she describes her work: Passionate Political Educational. Get to know the New York-based artist and her amazing artwork below.

1. How old were you when you started drawing?

Well, for as long as I could remember, I always loved to draw. I used to love drawing Puerto Rican flags and Chupacabras when I was little. Clearly not much has changed. However, when I was 12 years old, that passion was snuffed out when I was rejected from every art High school that I applied to including Art and Design, Fashion industries and LaGuardia. That’s when I picked up a camera and put drawing and painting away for many years.

·

2. You have Puerto Rican roots and you grew up in Bushwick, how has that inspired your art?

I’ve always been heavy into my Puerto Rican roots since going to the parade every year with my mom as a kid, but Bushwick is where I grew up. It feels weird saying that now because the Bushwick that people know now is not the one I grew up in. The Bushwick I grew up in was rich with culture and love. Don’t let anyone tell you different. A lot of my work, well at least the stuff that I am most passionate about definitely reflects my culture as a Boricua and our experiences both on the island and the diaspora. However, most of my photography focuses on my experiences growing up in Bushwick.

 

Before you start setting off your fireworks, chomping on your hotdogs and waving the flag of the oppressor, take a second to soak this in...This is what colonization looks like on Puerto Rico. This is statehood. This is our future if we don't do what is necessary now, at this moment. We cannot let them erase our culture. Take the time to learn our history under the fist of the United States and learn for yourselves the things that they never taught us in school. #CoñodespiertaBoricua #puertoricandebtcrisis #puertoRicoUnderColonialRule #FreePuertoRico #LearnOurHistory #PuertoRicanPride #AguaDeCoco #BombaYPlena #RichCulture #WhereIsOurIndependence? #independenceForWho #Merica #vejigantemask #jibarito #palcarajolajunta #seacabaronlaspromesas #FistUp #resist

A post shared by Danielle De Jesus (@danielledejesus1) on

3. Why do you draw the subjects that you draw? And can you tell us a little bit about the process?

I usually paint what I am passionate about most and stories that I want to tell. A lot of people don’t want to pick up a book and learn about our culture, which is fine, but that’s where my art comes in. It gives you a quick history lesson or maybe even teaches you about current events, without having to pick up a book. You see the painting, and hopefully, it tells you a little bit about what I am portraying. I love my people very much so I paint them and their stories every chance that I get. As far as the pop culture paintings, those are mostly just movies and characters that I like and paint them for my followers and me to enjoy.

This painting came to me the first time I heard "Freedom" by @anthonyramosofficial. That song touched me to the depths of my soul, and this image quickly formed in my mind. We're living through difficult times, and at times it feels as though we are moving backwards. POC suffer under the hands of this U.S government every single day, whether on the mainland or a territory. We get criminalized for things that others get smacked on the wrist for. People locked up for marijuana charges while others openly exploit it, petty crimes with heavy fines based on their skin. If you think slavery is over and we're all equal, you have a lot of learning to do. This morning I passed by a correction facility as I do every day, and saw two prisoners with a guard sweeping the street side walk. I almost cried as I imagined my own father. These men in the bitter cold with nothing but their prison uniforms sweeping for free because life dealt them a difficult hand. I can't shake off how I'm feeling today. I feel so helpless. I want to do more."The United States is home to 5% of the worlds population, but 25% of the worlds prisoners, think about that"-Obama "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter".-Dr. Martin Luther king Jr #Freedom #WhatIsFreedom #FreedomForWho #MartinLutherKingJr #HeHadADream #ButItsNotThisReality #FuckTrump #FuckRacist #fuckWhiteSupremacy #BlackLivesMatter #shaunKing#KeepBlackAndBrownBodiesOutOfThePrisonSytem #AmericanFlag #PrisonerWithoutCuffs #latinxCreate

A post shared by Danielle De Jesus (@danielledejesus1) on

4. From etch-a-sketch to dollar bills to dominos, what's your favorite canvas to paint on? And why those canvases?

Definitely dollar bills. My work is very political. Whether I am painting a cute cartoon character or telling the story of Puerto Rico’s struggle under colonial rule, it’s all political when it’s on money. People put too much value on a piece of paper. I like to take that power and make people see it differently. The Etch a Sketch is just a fun toy that I love to play with and happen to be pretty good at. The dominos began when I felt so helpless and needed to raise money to help my people after hurricane Maria. I painted a few and decided to sell them to raise money to help people on the island. I also helped curate a show at a gallery in Brooklyn called Grumpy Bert where a bunch of my incredible artist friends donated work to raise money too.

 

My apologies for the lack of post. My beloved, and intensely loved island of Puerto Rico has been through the worst natural disaster in its modern history and it has crushed my heart into a million pieces. I've been feeling helpless, desperate, wanting to do anything I can to help. I have a headache that won't go away, I'm tired and my heart hurts for my people, yet there's a piece of dog shit sitting in the white house doing nothing to help us. I am going to Puerto Rico in a few weeks and I want to bring cash and small goods with me so I am making these small paintings on dominos along with other small items that will be available for purchase soon. 2 out of 3 of these are sold out, but I am making more and will open an online shop where I will sell them and 100% of the money is going to Puerto Rico. Te amo Puerto Rico, nos levantaremos uno a otro, Pa lante simpre mi isla bella #QueVivaPuertoRico #PuertoRicoLibre #FuckdonaldTrump #HelpPuertoRico #Flamboyan #PuertoRicanParrot #BombaYPlena #dominos #SupportPuertoRico #PuertoRicanPride #TeAmo #Palante

A post shared by Danielle De Jesus (@danielledejesus1) on

5. Do you sell your pieces?

Yes, I do. I do not sell my Puerto Rico work though. Only prints and extremely limited. I am hoping to display the entire collection together when I feel it is ready. Its purpose is to educate and I am very passionate about it.

7. What kind of feedback have you gotten from your followers on Instagram?

I get lots of different opinions and feedback from my followers on Instagram, but mostly positive. I have several different demographics in my following so it gets a little complicated sometimes. I have kids and teens who follow me for my Hamilton and Disney art and then I have followers who follow me for my more in your face political work. Then there are those who just enjoy my work in general which is awesome. Pleasing everyone is impossible, so I just paint what makes me happy and hope that it makes someone else happy too. I do get a lot of “oh my gosh, I could have bought something with that dollar!” and it’s gotten real old real fast though!

9. What characters are the most challenging to paint?