Eyes like almonds, lips poised and in red, strong and sturdy noses – Monica Garza’s women are instantly recognisable. They have thick thighs, rounded breasts and are blessed with hips for bearing life. They are comfortable with themselves and their surroundings. On the outside looking in these women are brave and beautiful. Inside, you can tell they think deeply; during those moments alone, in a bedroom, waiting for that call – they feel. Monica paints, draws and creates ceramics of women being women. No frills, no embellishments, and no clothes. Nude, they surf; or ride on a motor bike; or lift weights. They are not ashamed of their bodies and these women wear their skin proudly.
Monica was born in New Mexico, and has since spent time living Asia, Africa and South America. Her father is Mexican and Native American; her mother is Korean. And she bring this global heritage into her art. Monica reflects her-full-self in her work, from her experiences as a woman to the simple things she does day-to-day. She creates for herself and for others. And, here, we interview her about it.
How did you first get in to art?
I was just always fascinated by art, but my mum is the one who introduced me. She used to make my clothes when I was a little girl and she’d sketch these little characters. I would always copy her and ask her to draw for me.
Your pieces focus on the nude female form. Has this always been the case?
Not always. I started off learning how to draw still life. When I was in college, I did draw nudes; but I was also really into animals, glitter and photography. I guess, I’ve always done nudes because when we used to do those still life studies, we would have nude models; it felt very traditional. I always loved the Masters and I like nude paintings. It’s nice for me.
I remember being in school and painting nude models, too. Following the lines of their body felt incredibly intimate and therapeutic.
Yeah, exactly! It’s not tainted with all the ideas that go with fashion. You really get to see the human body.
If you were to explain your work to someone who has never seen it, what would you say?
All my paintings are direct reflections of my life, innately tied to me as a woman and my culture. Paintings are a kind of presentation; so, mine are presentations of women being women. I look at the body. I see people’s shape and face structure. I’ve always been that way because I’m into the human form and shape. I also look more into colour, and combining colors in a deeper way. Like, I love the color of Thai tea. I’m not really thinking of it being Thai, but it being the colour it is.
Your chosen medium differs; is there a reason you experiment with different art techniques?
I love texture. I appreciate paint as paint; but I also really love mixed media, and how you can create images and feelings with or without paint. I love sculpture and glitter and fabric. I get bored if I just paint one way.
How did you find your style?
Sometime in college. It organically happened over those years or, I guess, in my lifetime really. We would always have these long ass critiques. I hated them. Even though, I guess, it was helpful. I think other people appreciated them, but I didn’t. I was high the whole way through; I enjoyed my work and didn’t care for critiques.
After college, I quit making art for 3 years. When I started again, I had no one to “guide” me or critique me. It was nice, like I can just make the shit I want to make. Not saying critiques or advice are ever bad; but in college and at that time I wasn’t into it. I think once I began to paint more of my feelings and mind, [my style] became apparent.
Where does the inspiration come from for the locations you paint?
I’m inspired by what I do or see in my life. I’ve travelled a bit; I love the beach, so I love painting it. And the bedroom is where I find myself every morning and night. A lot of paintings are just reflections of that. I’m just painting what I am. I’m sure what I see is probably different than other people. I don’t think about culture, necessarily, when I’m painting. I just know what I know, and go. Read and digest.
Yeah, I get you. Is that why most of them are of women doing day-to-day or simple activities?
Yeah, exactly, just some real shit.
Is art your ‘full-time job’, so to speak?
Right now it is but it’s been a sacrifice. It’s really difficult trying to get money and survive this way. I’m not famous, or a successful artist, by any means. I’m thankful for the opportunities I’ve had thus far, but I have such a long way to go to get to where I want to be. I paint everyday. I normally work on 3-6 paintings at a time. I finish a few a week and just stack them up.
Yeah I totally get that, finding balance it hard. Where do you want to get to?
To be above the poverty level. And also, I’ve always dreamed of making it into a museum. That’d be sick; but that seems so far away, perhaps even in death. You never know.
Is their a message you want others to feel through the pieces?
No, I like the idea of having the viewer interpret the art for themselves.
What other artists inspire you?
I recently saw Basquiat’s show, which was very inspiring. I’ve always loved the Masters; and also love Gustav Courbet, Frida, Matisse, Gauguin, William Hawkins, Phillip Gusten, Eva Hesse and so many more.
Are you working on any new at the moment, or have anything exciting coming up?
Doing shows here and there. I have new works, and newer works in the making. And just the hustle for now.
Words by Mollie Pyne.
Illustrations by Monica Garza.