Throughout Santa Monica, your eyes will come across many a mural. Some bear the likeness of a famous food critic, some the mug of notorious MMA fighter, others have intricate designs and some attempt to distill SaMo history into a piece of artwork.
One series of murals, however, goes a more minimalist route — with words and phrases as deceptively simple as “Create”, “love” and “You Are Beautiful”, local artist Ruben Rojas aims to bring peace into your everyday life and perhaps one day, the entire world’s.
“I use an urban landscape to look at life through a lens of love,” Rojas says. “Every message is about love. Every single time I write ‘You Belong Here’, every single time I write ‘Move Forward’, it’s a ripple effect toward peace, for all humanity. I alone won’t create world peace, but if I can inch the pendulum that way, I’m happy.”
Rojas’ work can be seen throughout Santa Monica, Los Angeles and a slew of select corporate sponsors, but his career trajectory in the art world started much differently than others and happened in the intersection between untapped talent and chance.
Rojas was born in Cedars-Sinai and raised in the Valley, raised by creative, entrepreneurial parents.
Rojas’ mother owned an arts and crafts store, bringing a young Rojas around to mill about it. When Rojas wasn’t doodling around in the margins of his notebooks during school, his mother would take him to art classes including oil painting, crochet, whittling and pottery.
Though he enjoyed these crafts, Rojas found himself attracted to helping people as he grew older.
He eventually applied to med school to become an orthopedic surgeon. After a few tours, however, he got cold feet.
“I was freaking out,” Rojas said. “I thought, do I really want to be bald from ripping my hair out and in lifelong debt at 35? It wasn’t going to work out for me.”
At a buddy’s suggestion, Rojas gave real estate a shot.
“In the first month I made a lot of money,” Rojas said with a smile. “Every month I made more and more, it was crazy. I had properties and everything then 2008 happened.”
During the Housing Crisis, Rojas says he lost everything in his life, at least in a material sense. He fell into financial advising and did that for years.
He looks back at this as a misguided time in his life, saying he was driven by being perceived as successful.
“This country shows us you’re successful by the car you have, the watch, the status, all that,” he said. “When I lost everything, the big lesson was I didn’t need all these things. I saw I was still me. I stopped worrying about being defined by the things I owned.”
Eventually a chance encounter with Beautify Earth’s Evan Meyers led to a new career for Rojas. Rojas refers to Meyers as “the grandpapi of Beautify Earth” and the man that changed his life.
“Around then, Ruben and I were taking some leadership course,” Meyers said. “We didn’t know each other at the time but I saw this powerful, talented man. He was doodling in a meeting, I saw the doodle and said, ‘This is amazing, why aren’t you doing art?”
“I wasn’t an artist at the time,” Rojas says, “I was a suit. I randomly doodled here and there and did stuff for my high school, hoodie designs with positive affirmations, but that was kind of it. Evan took a chance on me.”
Rojas’ first mural with Beautify Earth exemplifies Rojas’ artistic statement, asking “Who Will You Be?” It’s a question Rojas asked himself before his art career, each mural of his is a paint covered mirror he’s held up to himself before.
“Art is subjective, sure, but I try to open doors [of perception] for people with my work,” Rojas said. “I made that mural and the others just talking to myself. If I open that door, interact however you want. I can show you this mirror because maybe you need it. I needed it. Maybe you needed to see this message to help you stop beating yourself up and make a change. There’s never a better time than now.”
A quick scroll through Rojas’ tagged Instagram feed shows people reveling in his messages, taking selfies and group photos in front of his positive affirmations. While he says he initially was curious about murals to reach a larger audience (around 40k a day, he estimates), he’s interested in going bigger.
Integrating art and tech, public statues, contributing to green-related efforts and collaborating with the City are all goals of his. All he wants, he says, is an opportunity to spread positive messages on a larger scale.
“All I want is to take someone off their normal path because they saw something that invoked a change at that moment and put a smile on their face,” he said.
While his life has changed immeasurably — over the course of 80+ murals, Rojas says he’s brushed shoulders with billionaires and has had the opportunity to travel the world to do Ted Talks, to name a few life changes — he still remains humble, the same Ruben Rojas that doodled in his notebooks and always wanted to help others. If he can have his life change for the better, he wants to help empower you to do the same.
“Did I set out for this? No, all this has organically happened. But everyone has that opportunity. Everyone has the opportunity to excel in what they’ve been gifted. Just be a good human and I think everything else will follow through. If my work can help with that, I’ll know I did something right.”
For more on Ruben Rojas, visit www.RubenRojas.com