She’s normalizing millennial tropes, one Starbuck’s latté at a time
Monica Garza is re-envisioning masterpieces for the millennial generation. In an era rife with racially charged and feminist expression, the raw candor of her brown girl nudes – curvy, commanding, and strong as hell – could be easily interpreted as conscious expressions of the female gaze. However, after spending several minutes with the rising talent, her nonchalant demeanor quickly confirms the subjectivity of art.
“Honestly, I’m not diving too deep into anything,” says Monica refreshingly about her bold, brazen and bootylicious work. Born in New Mexico, she grew up in central Georgia, and her Korean-Mexican heritage manifests itself in the vibrancy of her canvases. “You a Real A$$ Woman N I Like It,” says one painting of a curvaceous odalisque with a topknot, tanlines and adidas slides. These aren’t your average bathing beauties lazing in a settee being fed grapes, these girls are working out, having sex, eating tacos etc. One could interpret the audacious pieces to be a visual FU to beauty/gender norms, though she admits, “not thinking about the context of it” at all. “I feel like my paintings are just the things I’m interested in. I’m not a conceptual artist. You know, like, oh, I like coffee.” And her muse? No one in particular. “[My subjects are] inspired by myself; colorful and funny. But I think a lot of people can relate. I’m just a person living in this world, and basically we’re all doing the same things.”
Monica studied painting at the California College of Arts, and has been nurturing the same vision ever since. She sees a canvas not as a space to disseminate a message, but rather as a chromatic stream of consciousness. “I don’t think about the context of my pieces. I’m mostly focusing on color, composition, texture and form. The actual process of it.” The insouciance of her technique is informed by an astute appreciation of all the masters – “I like artifacts and shit like that,” she laughs while reeling off a litany of artistic greats. From the naturalist docu-portraiture of Diane Arbus’ photography to the voluptuous lines of Courbet, her work blurs the worlds of Renaissance and reality, elevating millennial symbolism – Starbucks, skateboards and G-strings – to relics of beauty.
“Feminist” has become a ubiquitous term these days in the artistic landscape, and Monica’s work is often interpreted as such. And yet in thinking of being ‘part of the conversation,’ she disagrees. “I’m not purposefully doing anything, so I don’t feel like I’m part of that team.” One of Monica ’s pieces, La Luna, is currently on view in Manhattan’s Museum of Sex’s NSFW: Female Gaze exhibition, “dedicated to powerful feminine narratives [about] women’s historical roles as muse and object.” Her piece recalls Edouard Manet’s famed Olympia but rather than demonstrating racial and body hierarchies, both the muse and maid are interchangeably nude, authoritative and assuming the viewers gaze. While some artists assert a singular interpretation of their work, for Monica, the objective, open-ended nature of her pieces is exactly how she wants it. “When I go to museums I always look before I read, sometimes I don’t read at all. It’s important for people to take whatever they want for it. They might hate it, but you know, whatever.” In a sea of 20-something artists heralding themselves as the next Basquiat, it’s refreshing to hear a young voice who doesn’t take herself too seriously. Her girls may be products of the generation, but Monica is more obsessed with “growing as an artist” than her social media following.
There are no gimmicks or morals to this story; “as long as I can stand back and feel kind of happy inside, then I feel good,” says Monica. She sees a canvas as “a river flowing through me, something little different fish pop out [of] kinda thang.” As they say, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and Monica is turning the tedium of life into an imaginative landscape.
See more of Monica’s work: here
And check her exhibitions now on view at Museum of Sex: NSFW: Female Gaze through (September 24) and ANUM Gallery: Chain Hang Low through (September 8)