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.