Monica Dominguez-Reazine, The Phoenix

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"Your truth comes out...until you actually go through the motion of putting it down is when you see your truth on canvas."

Monica Dominguez-Reazin woodburning

Sometimes the veil of logic falls away, and everything makes a chaotic sense that we can’t find language for. That’s what it’s like to meet with a Phoenix. There was a fire of experience, and it left ashes of memory behind. She ignited a surface. The heat became form. She cries out with a soldering iron. Staring at her artwork is like staring at the sun. It’s beautiful and bright, and if you keep looking, it starts to hurt. You begin to feel something about the pain behind the markings. How did so much pain become so beautiful?

Her name is Monica Dominguez-Reazin. I’d start from the beginning if she’d had a childhood. That’s a door only the courageous and naive will beat on, demanding reason. “I don’t remember much about my childhood,” says Monica, “but I do remember any visual I have of it I’m always drawing I’m always painting from the time that I was little.” Imagine a two or three-year-old with little hands covered in charcoal. When she was about nine years old her father gave her an oil painting starter kit designed for adults. That meant it was designed for her. Looking back, Monica tells me, “I just remember that was joy. I had a really hard childhood, a lot going on in my childhood and I just remember to me that was —I was just in a different place, and so I’ve always done it. Always. It was just a daily routine, there was never a day that went by that I didn’t draw or paint something.” She’s been in love with oils ever since.

For Monica, art-making goes as far back as language. Image making is her native tongue. For her, a day without drawing or painting is a day of silence. Someday she’ll tell you her story, but for now, the echoes of a single interview will have to suffice, I can barely find words. No matter what I tell you, it won’t be enough. I’m going to leave you wanting the way that she left me wanting. There is nothing but more questions up ahead.

I ask Monica about the first time she sold her work. She was about 16, “I just remember the thrill of, ‘Wow, somebody likes what I’m doing. Somebody connected with it.’ I think it was that realization, especially when you’re going through high school, and you’re going through that weird puberty phase where everything is awkward and bizarre. I just always felt like I was an outsider. I never fit in. I never fit in. And so to have somebody acknowledge and make that connection with something I did —to me that was just like the coolest thing ever. It wasn’t even the money it was just that connection, and I just loved it. That was probably my first real sell.”

Desert Sunset She Dreams in Red by Monica Dominguez-ReazinThe molesting stopped when she was about nine years old, around the same time she began oil painting. That too had been going on as far back as she could remember. She didn’t know it wasn’t normal because, for her, it was. To a child, normal is the original experience we end up with. Normal is our baseline. It’s our beginning. Monica’s experiences, her baseline, set her apart from her peers. She didn’t know how to have a conversation that her peers could understand, but she could make art. When she was ten, after the molesting had stopped, she was assaulted in a public bathroom. I don’t know how else to type that. Only a sociopath could demand an explanation for the significance of that statement. Can you see her? Can you see the ashes yet? I met a Phoenix.

“Art has always been what’s kept me alive, what’s kept me going,” says Monica, “I think what inspires me is trying to take those experiences and trying to make sense for myself. Taking something negative and trying to restructure it in a way where I can see it in a different perspective, as strength as opposed to weakness, is my inspiration. Life itself, those experiences that you go through. It’s inspirational to be able to take that road of growth and to continue on with it and to be okay with it.”


I remember the first time I saw her. She looked out at me from a wood panel. She had the body of an owl and the face of reality. She was standing there, above the roses and they watched me as I looked at her. When I saw them, it was like I’d been caught in the act. Every rose was a witness, and I could not deny what I had seen in her eyes. I had to take her with me. I couldn’t leave her there. It was the first original work of art I ever purchased from Monica. After the show, I picked it up and brought it with me. I carefully unwrapped it and leaned it on the wall. We sat in silence across from one another, her ashes and I. A funeral is for the living, and I’d never be the same. I’ll never forget what she looked like.

Between the Early Morning Light and the Storm by Monica Dominguez-ReazinMonica Dominguez-Reazin is a Phoenix in the flesh. She uses fire to draw, birthing creation from the ashes of the past:

“I didn’t really feel like I had a childhood. Because of all those things, I grew up really quickly. I never felt like I fit in because I always felt different from everybody else or there was something wrong with me. I ended up —because I was more adult, and I think too, the way my dad raised us —He was very intellectual so we had to, like he bought these encyclopedias and we had to read them every day and he would quiz us at the dinner table. He’s like, ‘I want you to recite me a poem from Yates. I want you to break it down. What are the analogies? What are the metaphors?’ So I think I always talked and acted differently from everyone else.

I always was on the outside looking in. I just never fit in, and then I got into high school, and after I graduated I was in an abusive relationship, and then from there I went to another abusive marriage, and that lasted for 17 years, and it was extremely abusive. Me and my kids we went through torture, it was pure hell. And I just felt like I was not strong enough to leave. You never know exactly why you stay in those situations. People always ask me that, ‘Well why did you stay so long?’ I can never answer that straight out. I don’t know. You’re trying to save somebody. You grow up in that kind of environment, and so you start thinking that that’s normal, even though in your mind you know it’s not normal, but that is your normal. We went through that, and I was finally able to leave that situation.”

Rousseau Rubbish by Monica Dominguez-ReazinIf someone were to demand of Monica that she stop making art, it would be to demand she cease having a sense. It would be to ask someone not to feel, not to see, not to hear, not to smell, or taste. She does not choose to make art any more than she has chosen to be alive. There’s no difference between her artwork and her life. When we look at her art, we see her. These remnants are the ecdysis of her psyche. “It’s the one place where I can do two things I can lose myself and find myself all at the same time. It’s the one place where I feel like I fit in and I belong. I always come out of it realizing something new about myself and forgiving myself for something or forgiving others for something.”


Returning to the epilogue of what has been her life, Monica tells me, “But then we were like a year, about a year, where I had a restraining order. We had left. Me and my current husband, we were all living together as a family, but we were always watching our backs. We were always afraid because he had made it clear that he was going to kill us at some point. And I think it was about a year and a half later after that. The police chaplain showed up at my door, it was like 3-o-clock in the morning, to let me know he had committed suicide. He had just gotten the letter to extend the restraining order. That tore my world apart. I think all of us, my son, myself. It was just trying to live with the guilt because you try so long to help somebody and you feel like you failed.”

It’s the kind of thing you just can’t understand unless you’ve been in similar circumstances. For most of us behaving in a psychological or physically abusive way isn’t natural. We recoil at the thought of abuse and have no inclination to go there. But for those of us who are abused, it’s still natural to deny that abuse is what we’re experiencing or to lash out against the abuser. We’re naturally inclined to believe the things that people tell us and to do the things we’re asked to do, and then to defend our decisions. Healthy boundaries are invisible, and they don’t come close to physical assault. When our boundaries have been violated as far back as we can remember, we’ve never had a chance to discover what boundaries are.

Mind Martyr by Monica Dominguez-Reazin“I think taking all those experiences that I went through, the one constant that was there, through every single thing, was art. It was the one place that took me out of it. It was the one thing that took me into it so deep that I was able to pull myself back out of it. To be able to come out of it, not knowing you’re ever going to come out of the other end okay, but once you get it down on paper or canvas, and you can stand back and look at it and just see things differently, see yourself differently —I guess that’s why I’m talking about forgiving yourself, forgiving others, growing, and taking that negative into a positive because it’s now changed into something completely different. You’ve changed that experience by translating it into a visual and then that visual changes the experience itself into something else. I think that has always been important to me, as a mom, to be able to do that for my kids.”

What more can you do when the father of your son is abusing you both? Monica is a Phoenix.

“Learning stuff can happen all the time, and you can either be a victim, or you can be empowered by it. That’s your choice. You’ve got to take those moments and realize that as you grow, everything changes. Nothing is ever stagnant. It’s this constant ebb and flow, and so art has been not my passion as much as my survival to get through all of the things I have to go through.”

And she has. Her works echo the trials of her life. Monica Dominguez-Reazin, she is the incubator of the subconscious.

Meet visual artist Monica Dominguez-Reazin“I’m also bipolar. So I also use that to help keep my mind in balance and in-check sometimes, when you’re going through those highs and lows. I had somebody tell me once that if you’re having mental difficulties art is your therapy. But it’s more than that. This is allowing yourself to be vulnerable to others, to really take a look at yourself and be okay with it. So there’s strength that comes out of it. … it’s a lot more than just a passion it is literally my core.”

We are looking at the deepest parts of her bones when we see her art. I asked Monica where she saw herself in ten years.

“I always have a hard time envisioning myself in the future, and maybe it’s because I’ve trained my mind to not think about it, to always be present in this moment. I won’t be the same person I am now then. I won’t be the same person I am now tomorrow.”

She lives in the moment. Her art is a series of that moment., “Do what you’re passionate about, do what you love, do what’s going to make you happy, and be good to others.”

The best advice is the simplest advice. Perhaps it begins with some money, and you buy a canvas and some paint. Then, when you make something that brakes through the silence, you’re an artist.

“In my prior marriage I wasn’t allowed to go to school, it was not an option.” Monica tells me, and explains that it isn’t until you’ve been denied something that you can appreciate it or be so grateful for it on quite the same level, “Every time that I read something or that we have a discussion in class or I discover an artist that I’ve never heard before or a writer, your mind opens up to other possibilities, and your whole world perspective is continuously changing you’re continuously seeing things differently, and it’s almost like a drug.”

Her fire persists through the remnants, igniting the ashes and turning them into art. To be an open book begging interpretation is not the path for us all, but it is for Monica.

“Your truth comes out. You may not see it living it as you’re going through your motions of life and looking in the mirror every day, but until you’re actually going through the motion of putting it down —is when you see your truth on canvas. I surprise myself every time I’m done. The subconscious works in weird ways so you see yourself in a whole different way, and you can move on.”

The Feminine Legacy by Monica Dominguez-Reazin

The horrible things that happened to her were violations of her being. She was trespassed upon. Art making is powerful. For Monica, it was a ligament that nobody could touch. Every stroke, every line, every boundary, and all of the space across the surface belonged to her. She decided what was put there and nobody could change what she created. For every moment that she was denied ownership of her own body, she created a new body. She created a place to surface the mind, a voice that cannot be silenced because to see it, to know it, is to be undeniably affected by what has been burned into the wood.

 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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