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Yeli on Photography, the Bored Apes, and Trash Art
BY ERIC P. RHODES - Eric is an award-winning Crypto Art artist, renowned Trash Art artist, and creator of the iconic NFT collection, Unofficial Punks. Working exclusively in the Web3 space since 2019. 💬 Follow Eric on Twitter
When she was six years old, Yeli moved from the island of Puerto Rico to the United States.
Back then, her goals were clear: She wanted to learn English, figure out who she was –pretty deep territory for a six years old–, and understand her new environment.
Today, she is a digital artist at Playform.
We had a truly great time talking about her favorite books, her work in the NFT world, her latest digital art series, and her investment in the Bored Apes.
We also discussed her photography, trash art, and the metaverse.
Want to learn more about Yeli and her art?
Who is six-year old Yeli?
I’d say six-year old me was a very different person. I had just recently moved from the island of Puerto Rico to the US. I was doing my best to learn the language and figure out who I was in this brand new environment. That was a very fun time for me to just explore everything around me.
What was fun about all of it?
Everything was fun to me, but learning the language was the best part of it. My mom says I picked it up within two or three months. And growing up, I would bring my homework home and start doing it, and my mom would join me.
Slowly but surely, she ended up learning English along with me as I did my schoolwork. So it kind of feels like we learned the language together.
So you’re a six-year old who just moved to the US, what sort of activities were you involved in?
Well, believe it or not, I took up bowling. My parents put my sister and me in a bowling league and we did that every weekend.
It wasn’t until I was about seven or eight that I became artsy. It was either my birthday or Christmas, I don’t really remember, and I got a Barbie Polaroid camera as a gift. That camera changed my life. I became obsessed with taking Polaroid pictures of everything. And it was photography for me ever since.
A lot of photographers don’t like to put themselves in front of the camera, but you do, don’t you?
Yes, but I didn’t start being my own subject until much later in life. Back then, for Instagram, I would give myself a personal photography project every single year and treat it as a challenge. In 2017, I decided the challenge would be black and white self-portraits, and I did just that.
I feel like there’s some more to get into between six-year old you and 2017 you. So tell me a bit about what you grew up doing apart from photography and bowling.
Oh man, I was really into books back then. In high school, my AP Lit teacher had an entire library in his classroom, and every day during lunch period, I would go and borrow a book from there. And at the end of the day, I would drop it back off, and my teacher and I would talk about it.
So I guess for a while my Barbie camera phase kind of paused. I didn’t do much artsy stuff in high school. During that time, my sister was the artist in the family, while I was more interested in academics and Harry Potter.
So, let’s talk about your work as an artist a bit? What made you take the jump?
So I had been in the crypto space since 2017, but I didn’t really know about NFTs. But even back then, I was wondering if I could make my art a token. I had the idea in mind, but I didn’t know how it would work, or that it was already an actual concept.
So I was messing with tokens a bit, but TRON wasn’t working for me, and I decided to move to other stuff. And so I had come across an article that was about Kevin Abosch’s Forever Rose, and I was fascinated. That article is what led me to signing up for Codex and minting my first piece.
Is your family supportive of your career in art?
Absolutely! Back in 2017, I was working as a server in a restaurant, I didn’t live on my art yet. I loved what I did, I loved the hospitality industry, but I wasn’t happy, I wasn't fulfilled. I always knew there was something else I should be doing; that restaurant life wasn’t for me. But I did it because I was good at it.
At that time, I was working my way up the ladder. I wanted a promotion. I thought that if I was going to work in hospitality, I might as well make it worthwhile and make it to the top. So I started doing that, and I moved from server to host to bartender to team leader.
When I started training to become a manager, the pandemic hit, and I became unemployed. I had absolutely nothing, but my art kept me going. That was at the time when Trash Art was just becoming a thing too.
I had more time to work on my art so I did that and got by on it. Towards the end of that year, I got a call from the restaurant manager; they were opening up the restaurant again and they wanted me on the team. I was ecstatic; this was something I worked hard for, you know? I thought I could do that and work on my art too.
I did that for three months, went through the entire management training, learned everything, but every single morning, I would be in tears driving to work. I didn’t want to go, it wasn’t what I was meant for.
One day, my mom took me apart and told me that I needed to stop doing this to myself. “This is making you miserable,” she said, “I know how much work you put into it, but you’re not happy, and I can’t look at you hurting yourself every day going into a job that’s not fulfilling you.”
A bit after, I quit my job at the restaurant. It was heartbreaking for me since I put so much effort into it, but I had to put my happiness first. That’s when I became a full-time artist.
Listen to the full interview here to learn more about Yeli’s art, her Bored Apes collection, and her latest project.
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