Inspired by his mother and wanting to celebrate his culture, recent graduate Joel Solis centered on Butte County’s Latino street vendors in his culminating exhibition this past fall semester.

His 4-feet-by-6-feet paintings depict a woman selling tamales on the side of Highway 32, a man offering watermelons and pistachios in Orland, and a raspados (shaved ice) vendor with the iconic rainbow umbrella.

A first-generation student, Solis earned a Bachelor of Fine Art with an emphasis in painting and drawing in December 2022 from Chico State. The Orland native came up with the idea for his exhibition during his commute from his hometown to the University. He said he wanted to celebrate and recognize the hardworking women and men, but also inject some nostalgia into his creations.

Joel Solis is standing and holds his paintbrush down to grab blue paint while there are painting materials scattered next to him.
Joel Solis began drawing when he was a 3-year-old boy growing up in Orland, but it was at Chico State where he learned to paint.

Seeing the vendors—and now his paintings—reminds him of enjoying tacos at Sunday soccer matches in Orland, Solis said. His mom Susana, who previously worked as a street vendor, also inspired the subject for his work.

“Painting them allowed me to spend time celebrating my culture and language, but also recognize the hard work that goes into street vending—being outside in rainy days, cold weather, or even in 100-degree weather,” he said.

Solis, who was an art program ambassador for the College of Humanities and Fine Arts, began drawing as a small tot. He recalls being in awe of his father Antonio’s artistic talent and wanting to practice drawing himself. Solis started by drawing Spider-Man and other comic book superheroes. In high school, he became known as an artist. His skills have grown exponentially since then and even more so since he completed the BFA program.

Chico State’s BFA program prepares students for professional careers in art by fostering the development of each student through curriculum, mentoring, and a culminating solo exhibition.

Entrance into the rigorous program involves a portfolio review, a statement about the student’s artwork, recommendation letters, and a high GPA, said Professor Eileen Macdonald, who coordinates the program.

“(Solis has) been a very solid member of the BFA community,” she said. “A true leader.”

Since meeting him in fall 2020 in her printmaking class, she said Solis has been engaged, dedicated, and a great supporter of his classmates. It’s been wonderful to see growth in the quality, scale, and complexity of his artwork, Macdonald said.

“He has made remarkable progress and had an outstanding solo exhibition,” she said.

Chico State is “the greatest decision I have made,” Solis said. “There’s something about it that drew me in.”

Joel Solis used a paintbrush to touch up his painting of a Latina street vendor.
Solis said the street vendors featured in his paintings were all eager to participate in his project. He plans to gift them print copies as a thank you.

He said he was attracted to the physical and learning environment at the University and felt he would benefit from an education at Chico State. Solis was also drawn to the immersive, in-depth BFA program that would serve as a platform to pursuing a graduate degree in the future.

Professor J. Pouwels, who oversees the painting and drawing program, mentored Solis and said his maturity, early leadership, and participation in the painting and drawing club made him stand out.

“He takes direction well,” Pouwels said. “He leads within his peer group and will actively engage with students who came in after him when they have questions or want feedback during studio time when I am not there.”

Cameron Crawford, chair of the Department of Art and Art History, first became aware of Solis as the force behind reviving the students’ painting and drawing club. He said Solis quickly revealed himself to be level-headed and demonstrated great patience and a strong work ethic.

“Joel has been such a positive force in our department—we will certainly miss him,” Crawford said. “I am confident that his hard work and perseverance will allow him to find his way forward living a creative and rewarding life.”

Reflecting on his time at Chico State, Solis said his professors and classmates have helped him grow and thrive as an artist. He came to challenge himself and push his boundaries, and with the support at the University, he feels he accomplished that.

The professors are constantly guiding and encouraging students, he said. They truly care about their students, and they are honest in their recommendations.

“They really want you to improve,” Solis said.

Solis is now taking time to choose a graduate program and has an aspiration to pursue a career as a professor.