Ruben Rojas, a renowned artist whose work you’ve surely seen if you’ve ever driven around L.A., virtually stops by the L.A. Weekly weekly podcast to bring messages of love and to tell us little bit about how he became the artist he is today.
“I went to school to be a doctor, that was the plan. I wanted to be an orthopedic surgeon,” Ruben shares. “Obviously as you know, I didn’t go down that path. I actually ended up in real estate – my buddy is like ‘come try out loans.’ That first month in real estate I made a lot of money, I was like half a million dollars in debt and I’m a real estate mogul at twenty-something. So I went down that path and being an L.A. native and local, you know, anyone knows what happened here in 2008 and across other places … money was gone, houses were gone, and I had to reinvent myself. I went bankrupt at the time, sold off a bunch of assets, and was sitting in limbo and ended up becoming a financial advisor.”
He spent almost a decade in that financial world, helping others with investments and other smart money matters. He learned a lot, including: “When you make a ton of money really young, you’re driven by ego.” He found that when money is your metric of success, it’s not fulfilling and happiness can be fleeting.
In this pursuit of trying to fill this gap, he put more effort into a hobby he had dabbled in his entire life: art.
“I’ve been an artist my whole life,” he shares, “but no one tells you to go be an artist.”
He knew he had talent, but at a young age, his passion wasn’t something he thought he could pursue fruitfully. As he got older and began to realize the value of happiness and meaningful work, he was determined to make it a career.
An interesting aspect in his artistic approach – what he’s known for – is his focus on love.
“So you go back to the first mural I painted, on the left it says ‘who will you be’ and on the right it has eighty words of responsibility – worthy, loyal, leadership, love, gratitude, humble – just positive affirmations and ways of being. And the purpose of that mural, I would drive up Lincoln thinking ‘what if this guy at Starbucks that gets up at 4 a.m. to serve these people coffee at 5 a.m. wasn’t happy?’ I was getting out of bed not being happy too, that’s one of the reasons I went down this path, but what if I saw something – a piece of work or a message on a wall – that would have me shift the way I was thinking? So instead of being a victim or feeling unworthy or depressed, what if today I said ‘today I’m going to choose to be worthy, I’m going to choose to follow love, and I’m going to choose to be happy.’ Reminders like that started moving it forward. So that was the premise of where it started.”
Was there a moment when he realized he had started impacting people’s lives in the way he had hoped? Making them feel loved, worthy and ready to choose happiness?
“There’s a few and every mural has its own major moment,” he answers. “But if we go to the first mural I was up until 2 a.m. painting this thing (cause again, after hours) this guy walks by, he’s homeless, and he just starts talking to me so I start talking to him, and he tells me: ‘you know if I had seen this 15 years ago, and I would have had something like this that asked me to choose this way of life instead of the way I’ve been going I would probably still be with my family…’ I then I just paused and … woah.”
He goes on to share more beautiful stories of spectators sharing vulnerable moments with him in front of his murals, exhibiting strength, introspection and resilience.
Being able to make a living creating art is a dream that many share, but not everyone is able to do. Ruben recognizes this gift by giving back to the community with his messages of love, and by partnering his label with charities.
He has recently collaborated with local distillery Our/Los Angeles led by Partner Anton Van DerWoude and distiller Samantha Hochhauser, with a custom label available starting today, February 8. The limited 200 bottle release will coincide with a new mural by Ruben in DTLA, both spreading the messaging “Live Through Love.”
As part of the collaboration, a donation from Our/Los Angeles has been gifted to Beautify Earth to create a mural in Santa Monica. A 501(c)(3) nonprofit and international movement, Beautify Earth creates impactful murals in neglected areas by engaging with brands, cities, developers, small businesses, neighborhood organizations, schools and individuals.