We had the good fortune of connecting with Ela Mella and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Ela, how do you think about risk?
Risk is rolling the dice. But not just in the obvious sense. Risk is rolling the dice because its usually the first move of a game. For me that game was to become an artist. The first risk I took was to move to LA from a small town in New Jersey. The second was to submit to my first art show. The third was to show up. Every time I took a risk, it forced me to level up. It forced me to experience, to learn from that experience, and use that to prepare for the next. Everyone thinks that ‘making it’ involves some random stroke of luck, but the truth is that luck doesn’t exist the way we think it does. We put ourselves in luck’s way. I ‘got lucky’ because for years I never stopped hustling my art. I never stopped taking risks. I continued to put myself out there. I met more and more people. I gained more and more clients. Every time you expand your footprint, you increase your odds of luck finding you. And that is what happened to me. If not for the many risks I’ve taken, I would’ve never become a street vendor. I would’ve never painted a mural for MTV. I would’ve never become a street artist. I would’ve never succeeded in doing art full time. I would’ve never landed where I am right now. I would’ve never become me.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
My journey began when I wrote a joke about an avocado and decided to paint the joke. Over 50 avocado paintings later, I became known as ‘the avocado girl’. This avocado series became the launching point for so much growth and success to come. It taught me how to develop a series, connect with an audience and expand art off paper into wearable art, murals and merchandise. It connected me with incredible artists and business owners who would help me hone, tailor and elevate my craft. But the best lesson I learned was simply how to sink deeply into who I am, and let that guide what I make and how I live. None of this was easy. For years, I vended everywhere I was extended the opportunity, from friends’ basements, to Venice Beach, to 626 Night Market, to Las Vegas First Friday, to the Downtown LA Art Walk. I popped up all around LA, then Southern California, and then across the country. Anywhere my art took me, I went. The same went with street art. Once I painted my first mural, I took any opportunity to paint more. On a couple hours notice, I painted a mural for Alex Fine. I made Melrose a home away from home. I painted anytime, anywhere I could. It was exhilarating. But behind the scenes, I battled a lot to be in this position and stay there. Though I was in my early 20’s when I began my journey in LA with art, I had recently battled cancer. The long days and nights and endless hustle were hard on me. My stamina, energy levels and immune system were down. My body was no longer behaving like the body of a normal 20-something. But art gave me the motivation to get stronger. It gave me a purpose. All of this is the reason why humor and positivity are such staples in my work. Laughter and joy have catapulted me from hard times into good times, and sharing this with others is what I am most proud of as an artist. And it never gets old. Over the years, I have witnessed so many laughs and smiles from people at my booth or in front of my street art, and that is the reason why I do what I do. These moments of happiness, no matter how small, have the ability to unite and heal – and that is what I am aim to do with my art.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
My quintessential LA checklist definitely involves some eats on the east side from Guisado’s, Wurstküche, Same Same, Pine & Crane, Little Sister and Cliff’s Edge. As a foodie, I could go on forever, but those are some of my favorites! It wouldn’t be a trip without a couple drunk nights on the town. I’m more of a dive bar chick, but some of my favorite hangouts when I have friends visiting are Bar Flores, Angel City Brewery, Seven Grand, Clifton’s, Highland Park Bowl, and Davey Wayne’s (because who doesn’t like to get down to 70’s music?). I also love going to the Comedy Store. It could be a random Tuesday, and somehow they always manage to have incredible line-ups. I’ve never left not laughing my ass off… You can’t beat the nature here. So I love taking friends to Point Dume in Malibu and Switzer Falls in the Angeles National Forest. For a place that rarely sees rain, it’s pretty incredible to see a waterfall less than a half hour outside the city. I also love starting a day at Echo Park Lake or Venice Beach, and just seeing where the day takes me. There’s so much to do there, and so many interesting people out and about. You can’t ever have a bad time.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I would like to shoutout Eric Rader (@arixart), Jesse Rodriguez (@jessejfr) and Eddy Lee (@eddylee). I met them at my first art show, and without their mentorship I would not be where I am today. I would also like to thank Daniela & Ubatuba Acai (@ubatubaacai) for giving me the opportunity to paint all of their murals throughout LA, and Atlantic Records (@atlanticrecords), HeadCount (@headcountorg) and Why Don’t We (@whydontwemusic) for bringing me on to paint a mural for them, and catalyzing so much success since. All of you are truly amazing.