Article Written by: Tiffany Anderson
"When I sell you a painting, it's not just a painting. It's a piece of my story you're hanging on your wall. I love that."
Art, like music, is a universal language. With it, you can draw people in, tell them a story, and speak a language only known between you.
And for Orlando Corona, art makes his heart sing. A visual artist for the last six years, he’s been taking his craft more seriously as the years pass. “I’ve had wonderful mentors,” he mentions, “They saw my growth and then I started seeing it as an option for my life. I always thought it’d just be a hobby, but I loved it so much - it’s all I want to do.” While he specializes in oil paintings and printmaking, his heart is to tackle more murals, teach more classes, and create art.
Born in 2001 in the vibrant and colorful landscape of rural Mexico, Orlando’s grandmother fostered his first connection to art by exploring local markets with him, picking out crayon packs and coloring books. At six, an accident left him blind in his left eye. But despite the challenges thrown at him, Orlando’s determination and love for art continued to flourish.
In 2012, his family moved to the Upstate of South Carolina, and it was a culture shock for Orlando. “It took me two years to learn English fully. I was the only Mexican anywhere I went.” Adjusting to catching the bus, finding classes, and making friends took time, but eventually Orlando started leaning into the experience by watching TV in English and immersing himself.
“If being Mexican or Latino was cool back then, that would have been cool,” he laughed, “I was the token Mexican - kids here were ruthless.” During his time in high school, Orlando recalls trying to change his accent, act more American, and tried to forget about his culture and heritage in the name of fitting in.
In his Junior year of high school, he started taking art classes. “I had this art teacher named Kevin, he got me hooked on it.” Orlando created paintings, prints, working with linoleum, and by the time Senior year rolled around, he didn’t care about anything except art. “I found this passion for this and knew I wanted to be an artist - that’s all I was doing. I spent most of my Senior year painting, carving, and reading.”
Once COVID hit, Orlando stopped displaying his work at Open Art Studios and took an apprenticeship under Joel Barnett who taught him classical techniques and spent three hours every Friday working with him. Together, they honed Orlando’s skill set and recognized the deep-rooted desire to share culture heritage and experience through art.
At 18, Orlando learned about the Brandon Fellowship, an 12 month opportunity that aims to develop emerging artists. But, unfortunately, the age to put in an application is 21 years old. “I did a lot of waiting,” laughed Orlando, “But I had my eyes set on the Fellowship.”
Now as a Fellowship Alumni, Orlando is blooming in his work, “I was looked down on for a while, but now I consider myself an ambassador for my country and am proud of my heritage.” For him, the Fellowship was a personal experience of acceptance, growth, and challenges. As he explains it, “being a painter” back in Mexico had nothing to do with being an artist as that was a secondary thought. “The United States gave me the privilege to dwell in my art and actually enjoy it and make a living with it.”
Orlando displayed his artwork at “La Fiesta” in May of 2023, the signature event of the Hispanic Alliance which celebrates cultural influence from art on a broader scale. Sharing culture is an enormous responsibility, but he finds that sharing glimpses of his home through art allows him to connect with others.
“When I sell you a painting, it’s not just a painting. It’s a piece of my story you’re hanging on your wall. I love that.”
Watching others come and enjoy the privilege of enjoying their craft fills Orlando with pride. “I think it’s so good for our city, I think as long as creatives are working together and making a difference, that’s how we change the world.” Orlando’s artistry weaves together a narrative that each of us has a story to share - if only we’re brave enough to use all the colors.