There are few people who “get” art more than Danielle Garza, a.k.a., ellierex. With collage pieces titled “trust your instinct” and “surfing death,” the twenty-something-year-old mixed media artist is, to say the least, compelled. Having moved from St. George, Utah—a city burdened by the fallout of the above-ground nuclear testing in the Yucca Flats/Nevada Test Site, and, what’s more, is populated mainly by Mormons—to Los Angeles, she is quickly making a name for herself in the city of reinvention.
We meet up at her garden flat, an otherworldly abode tucked deep within a cavernous maze somewhere on the east side. She leads me up her Jim Lambie-inspired staircase, the staircase itself not only an installation, comprised of colorful vinyl tape, but is, more or a less, a case of obsessive-compulsion. Inside, my thought catalog kicks into Terminator mode (the sequel), scanning every inch of Garza-activated space. A black longhaired cat gently brushes my path. Analysis: adorable. It flips over on its back and I reach down to pet its stomach.
She takes me around her living room gallery, jumping right into works that hang like portals on each wall.
“I obviously use a lot of epoxy resin,” she says. “I use tools to manipulate the resin and make it smooth.”
“I really like that one.”
“Really?” she says, a huge smile stamped across her face. “There was a show at the Rat Factory, which is in a store called Glitter Death in Hollywood, and they had, like, an alien theme UFO show. “
I follow her into the kitchen, where refracted sunlight filters though windows covered in multi-colored vinyl, and epoxy chemicals sit idly by in the breakfast nook.
“I needed to get
out of utah.”
She points to a round marbled piece sitting on a table. “This one over here is kind of in progress, it’s like an abstract piece. There’s plexiglass on the bottom. I want this when it’s done to just look like a big psychedelic rock.”
“The marbling is beautiful,” I tell her.
“I do all the marbling myself. There’s a lot of different ways you can do marbling, but the easiest, simplest one is you take a small basin like this of water, and then you use fluid acrylics and keep it so that it doesn’t get muddy, keep it between, like, three to four colors and you basically just drop the acrylics on there. It won’t work with heavy normal acrylics, something that floats—kinda like oil when you walk over a puddle when it’s rained.”
You may be thinking Garza is the product of some over-priced art school where wandering teens roll in like manufactured goods on an assembly line, but you’d be mistaken. Garza is a living, breathing, self-propelled artist rarely found amidst a sea of pop-up education.
“The funny thing is I tried to go to school for art. I had a scholarship from the state and I went and met with this guidance counselor person and she was like, you want to study art? There are people who want to be nurses and we’re wasting this scholarship on you? And I was like 18 and no one had ever discouraged me like that before, so I was like what am I doing? I hate this woman. Someone who supposedly ‘knows’ is telling me I’m wrong—it really turned me off to the whole idea. So I stopped making artwork for a little while and I decided I needed to get out of Utah.”
Adopting the Internet, museums, books, and people as her classroom and materials, she makes art at the expense of her own insatiable curiosity and has unwittingly become a teacher herself, having recently demonstrated marbling to a class at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena.
“People can’t afford to go to school anymore,” she says. “In this country its insane.”
“And the fact that you don’t really need to. I wish I would have done that, waited, until I really knew what I wanted to do.”
A product of film school myself, I couldn’t help but feel somewhat betrayed. Four years out of college, there is nothing I want to do less than make it into the movie business. But who knows? If not for the mounting debt and secret affair with a certain film history teacher, I wouldn’t have discovered a passion for writing about interesting people.
“I think that’s what’s important—knowing your style and what you want to do. If I want to learn something, I’ll research like crazy. I feel like I’ve sort of been taking courses in a way, but it’s all online or self-taught. I’ll use Linda.com if I want to learn a software program, or watch YouTube for Art History.”
We take a seat on her couch and I spot an M.C Escher drawing, Self-Portrait in Spherical Mirror, hanging high above her stereo system.
“Yeah that’s one of my favorites. It’s very composed and beautiful, but he can do these designs and stuff that’s wild. “
“What other artists do you look up to?” I ask.
“I really love Basquiat. He’s amazing in terms of really going crazy with stuff. I feel like art that I’ve looked at lately is too clean, and I’m not really attracted to that as much as things that maybe have imperfection or they look messy. If you look at the pieces sometimes there will be tiny pieces of my hair in them and at first I would freak out, but now I embrace those sorts of things.”
As she’s talking, I go into Terminator mode again, this time scanning Garza the woman, stylish and charming, donning quartz crystal studs in each ear. Analysis: Mesmerizing.
“I just feel like I needed
to make things happen.”
“So how do you come up with a piece? Where do you start?”
“I have an idea in my mind and I just want to make that come to life,” she says. “Sometimes I’ll just have a vision of something, but usually I won’t really have a whole piece. It kind of just happens as I’m going along.”
“So how do you know when you’re done?”
“You just know. I think anybody who makes visual art—they just know when something is finished—it just feels right. I think I’m very highly…”
She searches for the word, ostensibly thinking of a way to politely compliment herself, without coming off as smug.
“Intuitive?” I say.
“Yeah! Probably a highly sensitive person, not overly, but I just feel compelled to make something.”
“Do you think that comes from growing up in a small town?”
“The town was fairly small that I grew up in and there was just nothing really happening. It’s interesting now—I just read that Utah has the highest percentage of anti-depressant use in the country. The town was highly religious. It was kind of narrow-minded. At an early age I was making art and listening to alternative music and there wasn’t really a music scene there so I just started emailing bands when you could really first use the Internet. I started booking shows for a few years and getting good independent bands to come through. I just felt like I needed to make things happen.”
I think about what I was doing at the birth of MySpace and it couldn’t have been farther from making things happen in the city of Minneapolis. I had just enrolled into an arts high school somewhere in the suburbs where inner-city kids like me don’t usually go. In the end, I drove 40 minutes everyday to eat Choco Taco Klondike bars at lunch and persuade my delirious media studies teacher into giving me an A+ on a final I never turned in.
“I call this one surfing death,” she says, pointing to a large piece hanging next to her television. It shows a grim reaper catching a wave just along the edge of a swarm of colorful daggers, each one embellished with its own pattern and glitter.
“This was built after I had done [coming 4 u]. I just like the thought that we’re all surfing death, just driving in your car, we never know what’s going to happen. But don’t be too overly cautious, you know, live your life.”
I take one last look around, scanning to memorialize the unique world I had unexpectedly found myself in, and ask her what she’ll be up to after the interview.
“There’s a cool samurai exhibit at the LACMA.”
Untitled (2013) Acrylic marbling and digitally altered. 8.5 x 11 inches. Courtesy the artist.
“Swan Song In The Dreamtime” (December 2014) Collage of images, holographic paper, acrylic paint and confetti layered in epoxy resin. 18 x 24 inches. Courtesy the artist.
Danielle Garza is a Los Angeles-based mixed media artist. Her work is distinct- wildly colorful and of a psychedelic nature, full of vivid fantasy worlds and often-times strange and warped illustrations made with paper collage, paint, marbling technique or other found items. You can view more of her work at www.ellierex.tumblr.com and follow her on Instagram at @ellierex.