One of the world’s most notable graffiti artists has returned to her native Napa to add her work—legally, this time—to the growing number of public art pieces that comprise the town’s Rail Arts District.
The artist, known only as ELLE, unveiled a new untitled piece last fall, which depicts several women against a backdrop of colorful patterns drawn from Mexican folklore and textiles.
The artwork covers all sides of a railroad car that is parked along the route of the Napa Valley Wine Train and, according to ELLE, it perfectly captures the mission of her art: To use bold colors and eye-catching images to promote strong women.
“It’s important for me to represent powerful females who are kicking ass and breaking glass ceilings,” said ELLE, who uses a pseudonym because so much of her early work was technically illegal. “When I started, very few women were doing graffiti and the world of street art was predominantly male. My whole career has been about changing that.”
ELLE’s ties to Wine Country and the North Bay run deep. She attended a local catholic elementary school. She graduated from Napa High School. She attended the University of California, Davis. She has nearly a dozen family members who live and work in the Napa Valley. She still has friends in the area.
ELLE has also drawn inspiration from people and places in the Napa Valley. During her younger years, she admired the work by local artists such as Gordon Huether, and she loved visiting the modern art collection at Hess Collection, a winery on Mount Veeder. She said she also was influenced by her Napa High school art teacher, Chuck Svendsen.
All these connections make coming home even sweeter.
“It’s pretty neat to finally have a piece in my hometown,” she said, noting that the women on one side of the train are pinky-swearing, a reference to her youth. “To be honest it’s really great to see the city of Napa embracing street art in general.”
ELLE certainly is no stranger to the spotlight; the graduate of Napa High School has been creating public art for more than a decade.
In that time, her work has been exhibited in the prestigious Saatchi Gallery in London, Urban Nation Museum in Berlin, and as a 200-foot-tall projection onto the facade of the New Museum in New York. ELLE painted a 120-foot wrap around the Nike Headquarters building in Melbourne, and Vogue Australia featured ELLE’s art in a story about 32 pieces of Melbourne street art to see before you die. Her graffiti is even featured in the Tom Clancy video game, The Division.
The young artist has also engineered multiple collaborations with the sportswear brand Reebok, including the ELLExReebok graffiti legging and the ELLExReebok yoga capsule collection.
In 2019 alone, ELLE visited Melbourne for a solo show inside the prestigious Rialto Towers; Amsterdam for a joint solo exhibition with Vroom and Varossieau Gallery; and Neuf-Brisach, France, to paint inside the MAUSA Museum.
Few of those accomplishments meant as much to ELLE as returning to Napa.
The city’s Rail Arts District–RAD for short—has become a hotspot for cutting-edge public art. Established in 2016, the group is a nonprofit organization led by the Napa Valley Vine Trail Coalition, the Napa Valley Wine Train and the local arts and business communities, and it spans a 1.7-mile section of an industrial neighborhood that parallels the Wine Train tracks through downtown Napa.
Along this stretch, artists have turned the backs of warehouses and signal boxes into canvases for murals of varying size. ELLE’s piece is the first to appear on a train car itself; though the car can move, it will be parked in its current location indefinitely.
Some of the other artists with work in the RAD include Mikey Kelley, Fintan Magee, Felipe Pantone, and bumblebeelovesyou.
For the latest pictures of ELLE’s work, follow her on Instagram.