By: Catherine D. Nguyen, Writer & Editor
Ulysses Gonzales may look like the boy next door with a pleasant grin and piercing, kind eyes, but he is far from ordinary. We meet in a café formally called The Gypsey Den in Downtown Santa Ana. The small chain dropped what they felt was a derogatory descriptor in the name, but a free-spirited atmosphere still emanates from the hodgepodge collection of art on the walls and shoegaze music playing in the background. It’s an appropriate backdrop for Ulysses’ story filled with darkness, mythical imagery, and an ever-present strand of hope and resilience.
We sit and chat for hours, and I’m surprised by his openness. He's in a reflective place in his life after accomplishing great success. Ulysses is an artist from Garden Grove, California, and his psychedelic works of cultural figures and surrealist imagery have amassed him over 100,000 followers on social media and the support of celebrities like Joe Rogan and Pauly Shore.
His works are bright, metaphysical, and gently subversive: a purple-glowing Albert Einstein with his third eye ablaze, a colorful rendering of Kobe Bryant in a parallel universe, Macaulay Calkin’s home alone face melded into the iconic “Scream” composition. Sometimes his art is darker. Alien fetuses glowing in a radiating womb, phantasms melting off the canvas, menacing portraits of cultural icons like Hunter S. Thompson in a Dali-esque landscape.
His work, perhaps emblematic of symbols within our collective unconscious, also provides a window into his own psyche. As he speaks about his past, I get the impression Ulysses has catalyzed his experience into fuel for art. He lives, breathes, and eats art. Tragedy happens? He puts it into a painting. A midnight revelation? He starts creating right away. It appears his evolution as an artist will be unstoppable because he constantly strives to be the best version of himself.
Daggers, Bullets, & Wolves
Ulysses’ path to becoming an artist, like his art, has been full of bright, surreal moments juxtaposed with heavy imagery. From dodging bullets at a Garden Grove party to protecting himself from wolves in sheep's clothing, Ulysses has had to follow his instincts to get out of sketchy situations and to escape predators in his life.
According to Ulysses, wolves have been a recurring image in his subconscious for years and appear in his art as well. While the wolves in his dreams used to be a source of terror, they’re now a symbol of empowerment. “My spirit animal is a wolf because I always want to be surrounded by positivity and the power of a wolf pack," he writes on Instagram.
Regardless of the danger that has encircled him in the past, Ulysses traverses through experience following knowledge and love like a compass and uses his art to cast light on shadows in his psyche. Sometimes Ulysses finds himself in stoic solitude or communal utopia, but it seems he's most at home when he's facing fear and bringing his imagination to life.
But, things weren't always like this.
There was a time in Ulysses' life when he felt deeply stuck. He was in a situation for years that sucked the creativity and joy out of him. One fateful day, a work injury caused him to lose vision temporarily.
"It felt like there were scales on my eyes and blood was coming from them. The pain was excruciating."
When he eventually regained his vision, Ulysses made a decision: he would leave and travel the world.
His first stop was Europe’s longest and most storied pilgrimage route, El Camino de Santiago. Ulysses walked alone day and night for a month to heal from his broken relationship and to chart his next steps in life.
"It was one of the most challenging experiences of my life. [The walk] didn't heal me from that relationship but my art got better."
After backpacking El Camino and stumbling upon the "outsider" art of Montmartre, France, Ulysses became inspired to create. The scales from his eyes fell and he remembered his first muse: his mom.
“When I was a kid, my mom would make me copy one Van Gogh painting at time until I had done like twenty. Then, she put money on the table and said, ‘now go do your own art’.
Since then, Ulysses has continued evolving and pushing the limits of his craft. He works non-stop and is constantly creating through various mediums from paint to murals to graphic art, and now to NFT's.
Rise to Fame
Ulysses has garnered much success through the internet. With 107,000 Instagram followers, Ulysses says he's developed a strong presence on social media because he cultivates authentic connections with his followers and produces quality content they love. Ulysses shared that he sometimes asks his followers what kind of content they want to see and then creates and delivers it. His Instagram live videos display him in the process of creating murals, art, or participating in challenges.
The exposure from social media cultivated an organic reach that has opened doors for him. One encounter in particular changed the course of his career.
After two years of creating and posting his work on social media, celebrities like @PaulieShore and @JoeRogen began to take notice.
Joe Rogen even promoted Ulysses' work after seeing a 40-foot tall mural of Rogen being abducted by aliens. After Rogan personally reached out to Ulysses to purchase a surreal painting of Hunter S. Thompson with swirling, glowing eyes and a cigarette draped from his mouth, things took off for Ulysses.
“Once he purchased one of my paintings, I began to get messages from people all over the world asking for me to make copies of the original for them.”
The notoriety propelled Ulysses into the spotlight where he now uses his platform to convey a message to his audience:
"Don't be afraid to look fear in the eye. Buy the ticket, take the ride!"
Currently, Ulysses is working on two different 40-foot murals in Los Angeles and continues amassing a huge following. He has expanded his art into Cryptoart, clothing, animation, and even has a custom line of PC mods parts.
"Wherever I'm at, I'm going to make money with my art," he says, "I'm just getting started."
For more of Ulysses' art, follow him on Instagram @ugonzo_art or visit his website Ugonzoart.com
For clothing and prints, check out https://linktr.ee/ugonzo_art.
How breaking out of the norm helped me live my most empowered life
By Valerie Low
My second time attending Burning Man in 2016 changed the course of my life. My campmate Kevin told me about a quote that he saw in a porta-potty:
“Ask not what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive.
Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
Since then, I’ve been using it as my compass, living life, following my inspiration - discovering what makes me feel ALIVE.
A month after the burn, I ended up selling and giving away most of my belongings. I left my 2-bedroom apartment in the suburbs of LA, set out to travel the world with only a 40L backpack.
After traveling through 5 different countries being a backpacker, I was back in LA the next summer. Since I'd already given up my apartment a year before, I thought I could at least find myself a temporary home for the next few months. That's how I got an RV right before Thanksgiving of 2017.
I’d never even been inside an RV before I bought one.
The second day living in the RV life by myself out in the desert of California, I asked myself, “What now?”
I’ve traveled the world, I’ve got my dream RV, but what do I do now?
I had been an engineer, a marketing manager, started and ran my own company, and now I thought:
I am going to do WHATEVER I WANT.
I spent the next two months living out of my RV, mainly in the desert, off-grid. I spent my days drawing, practicing guitar, cooking three meals for myself, fixing up the RV, doing yoga, and watching the sunrise and sunset.
I enjoyed the stillness of the desert. Many days the only movement I saw outside my windows were birds flying in the sky and other RVs coming and going in the distance.
Other than enjoying nature, there were many things I needed to learn and many challenges I needed to face on my own.
One night out in the desert there was a huge wind storm. My RV was shaking wildly from the wind, and I could hear a loud banging noise on the roof. Was it some sort of animal? Or was it from the wind? I didn’t know what it was. I even considered calling the police! And I was so scared the RV might tip over from the wind. It was a sleepless night as you can imagine.
And there was another night, out in the wild, when a rat got into my RV! I was terrified! Nowhere else to go, nobody to call for help. I had to spend the night with the rat running around the RV.
Other than these unforeseen incidents, there were many things I needed to learn.
One of the first things I got to learn was how to drain and clean my black water tank (literally cleaning my own shit!). There were some messy attempts but that’s when I was reminded, ‘when we don’t mind getting our hands dirty, there are many things we could accomplish!’
At the beginning of my RV life, I thought my lesson for this chapter would be self-empowerment. Though it was very much about empowering myself, I quickly realized it was more about SELF-LOVE.
I was all by myself, with my own thoughts. Without stimulation from the outside world, I was my only source of entertainment, care, and love.
That’s when I realized even a greeting from a barista at Starbucks used to give me a sense of connectedness. These seemingly unimportant events in society were also a source for me to feel loved.
Now that those seemingly unimportant events are gone, I depend on myself to give me all that I need.
THIS IS THE JOURNEY. It’s a journey of me loving myself!
Other than the external challenges I was facing, many days I spent fighting a war within myself, feeling lonely, disconnected, scared, and exhausted.
Without having a place to escape to or distract myself with, I learned to be present with those feelings. Instead of pushing them away, which creates more tension in me and makes me feel worse, I let them be. I learned to keep them company. I learned how to comfort myself.
There’s a poem by Rumi that I share a lot with my friends:
“The Guest House” by Rumi
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
Negative emotions could be clearing me out for new delight.
I’ve been shown again and again, by befriending these challenges and accepting these negative feelings, that I am able to learn from them, and always, I seriously mean that - it ALWAYS leaves me feeling stronger, wiser, and lighter.
Other than my usual meditation practice, drawing mandalas helped me a great deal during this time. It’s another form of meditation, another way of training my focus. When I draw, I can hear myself talking clearly. I listen to the conversations in my head as if I am listening to a podcast. Breathing into any uncomfortable feelings that come up and observing my thoughts as they are.
The same capacity I have built to experience the negatives, helps me in experiencing the positives.
I’ve come to find that self-love is not simply taking a nice long bath or buying myself ice cream. It’s the way I talk to myself, being my own best ally, and taking 100% responsibility for myself - both physically and emotionally.
I’ve come to appreciate myself even more, finding joy in the littlest things around me.
My capacity to feel joy gets bigger and deeper as I allow myself to experience challenges with an even more open heart.
All of these experiences have equipped me to keep traveling on this earth with more ease and compassion. Learning to appreciate and love myself, I can better appreciate and love others.
Valerie Low is a nomad, entrepreneur, yogi, burner, and avid traveler. She’s always on the hunt for new coffee shops, experiencing new cultures, and learning how to say thank you in a new language. Connecting with people from all walks of life is her superpower. She dreams of a world without borders. Using compassion and inspiration as her compass, calling wherever she lands home.
Follow her journey on wwww.flowwithoutborders.com