Photography courtesy of Ruben Rojas
Ruben Rojas is a man on a mission. Armed with paints, art supplies and ideas, he states his case for the widespread adoption of his optimistic “live through love” outlook on life. It’s a message that’s traveled far in a short period of time since he transitioned from a career in finance to a full-time artist. He also doesn’t limit himself with his mediums, as his commissioned murals, sculptures and canvases can be found all over his native Los Angeles, as well as other U.S. cities including Chicago, San Antonio, Houston, Columbus, Iowa, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, and international cities like Paris.
Although his latest endeavors include the expansion of his clothing line and exploration of NFTs to expand his audience to younger generations, his message—encouraging viewers to embrace love in a personal and global context—has remained constant.
“‘Live through love,’ is an active way of being human, just like Nike’s ‘Just do it,’” Rojas explains. “We have a choice to operate in life out of love or out of fear. If you turn on the TV, all you’re really seeing is fear.”
“As an artist, my goal is ultimately to create visuals around ideas that can impact humanity as a whole as well as the individuals looking at them,” he added.
“‘Live through love,’ is an active way of being human, just like Nike’s ‘Just do it,’” Rojas explains. “We have a choice to operate in life out of love or out of fear."
Rojas’ outlook as an artist is rooted in his own life experiences, rather than art world conventions and formal art school training. Even with so much vibrant artwork filling Los Angeles’ public spaces—like the ICONIC murals along L.A.’s freeways and boulevards—and his childhood memories, it took a while for Rojas to arrive at the trailhead of his career. He studied medicine in college and later went into real estate. After the housing market crash about a decade ago, he picked himself up and became a financial advisor and planner.
Material success helped fill his pockets, but it was not making his life worthwhile.
“There was no purpose in what I was doing,” Rojas recalls. “I was trading time for money, and spending a lot of money to fill the voids. By the end of the 2010s, I realized that I needed life experiences and a purpose to fill these voids instead of expensive possessions.”
The turning point came unexpectedly when Rojas agreed to meet up with a friend who introduced him to a personal development leadership program—and there was no turning back. Rojas was completing his studies in that art program, another friend saw him doodling a design for a “team uniform” hoodie to be worn by those graduating from the program and advised he rethink it as a mural that would become part of the program’s community service project.
“When I started out, I didn’t know anything about the art world—how galleries, art shows, agents and managers worked,” Rojas affirms. “I did not know about how to make a living as an artist, and did not go to school to study how to actually have a career in art. What I did know all was that being able to create my artwork on my terms was important to me and the people whose lives would be affected by those murals, sculptures, and other projects.”
“When I took on my first projects to make money from my art, I had not yet developed my own style at that point. However, when I realized I could make a living doing this, it gave me the confidence to move forward. I passed my clients on to trustworthy financial planner colleagues, and never looked back,” he added.
Rojas believes his official appearance at the 2021 edition of Art Basel was the result of persistence and “live through love” message.
“They could see my practice is growing, evolving and crossing over into new mediums and areas,” he explains. “I partnered with the Doctor Brandt Foundation, creating a painting called, “Say, I Love You,” a self-portrait with mental health as the primary theme, shedding light on my emotional conversations with myself.”
“The left side depicts words and ideas rooted in fear and doubt. The right side shows the same things through the lens of love,” Rojas added.
In looking beyond high profile art shows and exhibitions, however, he is particular about how he vets different opportunities.
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“I take the time to learn about the goals for the commission, and ask them about the ‘why,’ or reason behind the project,” Rojas says. “If a prospective client wants a huge logo in the middle of the mural, the answer is ‘no.’ The public is not dumb, and they’re going to know it’s an advertisement without a real connection to a cause or issue. If your company wants to be a part of making a difference on a grassroots or community level that means something to the viewers, it should have a very subtle hash tag or logo blended into the bigger design.”
Consequently, some of his most career-making commissions are also points of pride. The overall goal for the American Express commission in Clarksdale, Mississippi—his fourth major mural—spoke to him, especially because of his previous career as a financial advisor. The opportunity with TOMS Shoes, meanwhile, touched on the core of his motto.
“We wanted our collaboration with TOMS Shoes to communicate the importance of ending gun violence to a broader audience,” Rojas says. “When charities reach out to me, I also want to know if I will be a part of an event and get to speak about the cause from my perspective. If you just want me to donate art, the connection is not there.”
His most recent public installation is “Evolve,” in the butterfly garden of The Alhambra, a multi-use business and residential complex just outside L.A. He says it provides another visual representing how, “every trial and tribulation we go through can ultimately give us our wings to be able to be free and, of course, live through love.”
The expansion of his clothing line beyond graphic t-shirts and sweats, meanwhile, has taken him full circle, as it continues to provide an entry point for people from all walks of life to connect with his art.
“I became more adventurous and experimental, designing, cutting and sewing my own silhouettes to produce one-of-a-kind pieces that one simply cannot get off the shelf,” Rojas says. “Hoodies in my earlier collections ranged from $70 to $100, while a hoodie in my new premium luxury collection runs about $200.
“I am also working with leather, having designed tote bags and a weekender bag with a black rainbow pattern whose quality rivals any premium handbag at the market. They’re ‘investment’ pieces handmade in New York City, but people are buying them knowing the object and the statement they make will last. Thinking locally is important, and if something can’t be made in L.A. (where I am based), it will be made somewhere in the U.S,” he added.
Rojas’ clothing collections got a big boost from the Los Angeles Rams, with distribution of his clothing to the players just before the playoffs, and an appearance at the “NFL Honors” event on the eve of the 2022 Super Bowl, painting two murals in real time. Even with the increase in high profile engagements, he is actively exploring other mediums.
He sees NFTs’ potential as a new way of delivering his art and message to a broader, younger and tech-savvy audience, while he feels podcasting will allow him to put what he does into a bigger sensory context. While he’s still exploring all the possibilities and ideas he can apply to NFTs and the greater digital realm, he has moved full-steam ahead with his podcast, which debuted in mid-February.