Mariella Angela is a self-taught oil painter who has made a name for herself in the hip-hop community and beyond. Her portraits of rap’s greatest artists — from Lauryn Hill to Gucci Mane to Tyler, The Creator — speak for themselves. But it’s her down-to-earth personality and social media savvy that allowed her to turn a hobby into a career.
One look at her Instagram and it’s immediately evident her stroke is unlike any other. Inspired by music ranging from old-school R&B and soul to today’s mainstream tunes, Angela is able to pour her heart into her artwork, channeling creativity and imagination with a little help from music’s leading genre.
Angela is currently in the middle of her monthlong pop-up show in Venice Beach, holding court every day through Aug. 13 at 214 Lincoln Blvd. That’s where L.A. Weekly caught up with her for details.
L.A. WEEKLY: Being that you taught yourself how to paint, how difficult or easy was the learning process?
MARIELLA ANGELA: It was real easy. I was painting as a hobby to kill time. I didn’t have Netflix or cable. There was a year where it was something to do, and it was a hobby. I didn’t realize I was getting better.
After a year, I said, “Oh shit, this is something I want to pursue.” I didn’t realize I was really teaching myself, it was just something I was continuing to do and I stuck with. It wasn’t difficult at all. It was like an everyday thing, like eating. [laughs]
Where do you draw your biggest inspiration from?
Just whatever is going on currently, from day to day. If I start painting, it’s because I want to paint, but if I continue the whole day, it’s usually because I’m really happy or sad or pissed off.
It’s like my way of ghosting from the world, but also it justifies why I’m ghosting. If I’m like, “I’m just painting!” they can’t really get mad. It’s the way I meditate.
You’re from Norwalk. How does that play into your life and your career?
I think it’s parallel, my life and my career. I know my stuff is dope, but I also know it’s hidden. I’m kind of a hole-in-the-wall thing, which is like Norwalk. too. No one’s ever heard of it, and no one would ever think there’s an Asian girl in a town that’s 90 percent Hispanic and African-American.
How have you overcome the stereotypes and the struggles that you deal with, being a minority?
I hate saying struggle, because I was really blessed and fortunate. Our generation is very open-minded. I didn’t really realize it was a stereotype or a struggle until I was older and saw other people go through it. I was blessed to not experience it first-hand or really have to think it was a problem. With our generation, hip-hop is so mainstream. Everyone that I’m surrounded by really supports the art itself and the reasons why I’m doing it. I’m really fortunate not to be around people who constantly pick up the stereotypes. I tell people it’s what I love and they’re really supportive. They see the passion.
Talk about the process that goes into making a portrait, from beginning to end. How long does one piece usually take?
It’s usually under five or six hours from start to finish. I usually wake up and eat a bunch of food. [laughs] Then I sit down and it probably takes about 30 minutes to sketch it (from my iPhone). Once I start painting, I put on a movie in the background. Usually by the end of the movie, half of the painting is done.
I’ll take a break, probably take a nap, and then I go back to it. Usually before the second movie ends, the painting is already gone because once I zone in, I’m zoned in. The only reason it takes me weeks to finish a painting is because I’m distracted or because it’s hot and I leave. When I’m really focused in doing a painting, shit gets knocked out.
What are three things you need while you paint?
I need a green tea latte from Starbucks. Obviously my paint and canvas. A really, really bomb playlist.
You recently mentioned that happiness is the end goal. What’s the message that you aim to deliver through your art?
What I want to portray with my art is that what you’re meant to do, it doesn’t even have to be what you thought you were supposed to do. Sometimes it just falls into your lap. I grew up thinking I was going to be a lawyer for 20 years, then all of a sudden this is the best thing that’s happened in my life. This is the reason I’m still here, and the reason I smile every day.
I think a lot of people now have a lot of anxiety and depression. A lot of people don’t know what their purpose is or what they are meant to do in life. Society has all these demands and stigmas.
You don’t even know when it’s going to come to you. When it comes, you’ll say, “Shit, this is what I was waiting for.” That’s what I hope to portray with my art.
What are your goals for the pop-up show?
The pop-up isn’t to show people what’s next in my career, or what we plan to do in the future. It’s a celebration of what’s already been done. We want to make it more accessible for everyone to see it.
Every show that we’ve had has been a three-hour show. We’re doing everything out of pocket with no sponsors. Jake (my partner) and I kinda threw all the money we had together. We made the store look like an extended version of my studio. The way we laid out the paintings are how they were put up in my tiny studio that used to be in a garage.
We’re going to be in Venice until Aug. 13, every single day. If the door is locked, just knock. I’m probably taking a nap.
We plan to be barbecuing every weekend. We want to invite people to get free food and free drinks. We plan to start doing that after the grand opening! Every Saturday, until we get kicked out on the 13th.
Name one artist you’ve been wanting to gift, but haven’t had the chance yet.
Gucci [Mane]! Always, always, always Gucci. Even though it’s so close and I could, I’m just tongue-tied. I got his address and I have to write him a letter, but what do I write? Do I write “Mr. Mane”? “Radric”? What do I say? It’s Gucci!