Fresno State art student turns pain into art
Upon entering local artist Veronica Garcia’s apartment, visitors are greeted by her two cats and a massive art display.
An easel next to Garcia’s most recent piece is surrounded by multicolored paints, brushes and books. “The Art of the Andes: From Chavín to Inca” by Rebecca Stone-Miller, “The Maya” by Michael D. Coe and several novels by Stephen Houston are just some of the books that take up space alongside the Garcia’s oil paintings.
As a third-generation Mexican art student, born and raised in Fresno, Garcia’s roots go back to where her grandfathers on both sides of her family were born.
A deep connection to this culture, and an even deeper connection to strength, resilience and creativity, is what inspires Garcia’s artwork.
She started drawing, painting and creating as a little girl who grew up with two brothers and was not included in the same activities as the boys.
“I did my thing. Drawing, painting and making bowls out of mud in my garden was just something that came naturally to me,” she said. things with my hands and it was very natural for me.”
Garcia, now a senior at Fresno State, uses oil on canvas for most of her work, a medium she only used last year.
Every piece of art she creates is a form of therapy and a release from life’s most heartbreaking events, according to Garcia.
“My art is very emotional. It’s very much related to my life experience and it’s very personal,” she said.
“The Patriarch,” a self-portrait of Garcia holding her abuser’s head, is a piece she’s most proud of because of the response and support she received for it.
“The Patriarch” (A dishonorable mention) 2022, oil on canvas, is a self-portrait of Garcia holding the head of his attacker.
When Garcia was a young girl, she was sexually abused by her grandfather for many years.
“It’s a circumstance that is unfortunately a pandemic in itself, where trusted people abuse young girls in the family,” Garcia said. “When it’s someone who is so powerful within the family, someone who is seen as that hero or [as] untouchable, and then when someone in the family is abused by that person, it’s such a difficult position to be in because you’re basically prepared to really love that person.
When Garica began telling her family about the abuse she had suffered, she was irritated and hurt by the reaction of some.
“Not everyone, but some people in my family chose to continue to have a relationship with that person and continue to praise him,” Garcia said.
This added to his anger. This anger turned into spite.
“Being raped by a person everyone loves and adores, but he does these things to you that you know aren’t good; and he crossed several borders and he was a very special person for you when you were a child; when those boundaries are violated, it can be a very scary place,” Garcia said.
She said art and therapy at Fresno State was what started her healing process.
“I was able to go through these healing moves and stand up and expose this person…And instead of fueling that anger, I decided to use it in a way that would aid in my healing so that I could close this chapter [of my life]”, Garcia said.
For Garcia, exposing and sharing this experience with the world through her art meant being able to not only help herself, but also help others. She highlighted the courage it took her to paint “The Patriarch” especially.
“I am 100% someone who was born with the courage to ruffle feathers, but this trauma took a lot more courage from me than I thought,” Garcia said. “I was preparing for an army to come and get me, but I did it anyway, and it was worth it.”
“The Patriarch” was an advanced painting class task in which Garcia had to find an older masterpiece and use the contents to create his own version.
Garcia chose to use the biblical story of Judith and the head of Holofernes like the inspiration behind “The Patriarch.”
Shortly after posting and sharing her article with social media and her family, Garcia received an outpouring of support.
“I got messages from other women who have been through similar experiences and messages from younger cousins who said they were so proud of me, and that, ‘I’m so glad you can be a role model. for my sister.’ And that was one of the reasons I had to do this,” Garcia said.
Garcia is no stranger to overcoming traumatic experiences and obstacles. Before painting “The Patriarch”, Garcia created “Loss”, an oil painting on canvas.
Garcia was diagnosed with endometrial cancer a few years ago. It was a time in Garcia’s life that she described as full of pain, hospital visits and loss.
Due to the severity of her cancer, Garcia had to undergo a full hysterectomy, a surgery that removed her uterus and ovaries.
“When I was diagnosed, my oncologist told me [that] the only treatment is a hysterectomy and I was like, ‘OK, yeah, let’s do this.’ But I didn’t grasp the fact that I wasn’t going to be able to have kids at that time,” Garcia said. “When that choice is taken away from you, it’s so permanent.”
After I recovered from the operation and the pain subsided, the reality of not being able to have any more children set in. It was a moment she describes as “a bad dream”.
To heal and process this life-changing event, Garcia began to paint “The Loss.”
“Loss” is an oil painting on canvas, representing half of an open pomegranate with a fetus in the middle next to a vaginal speculum.
Through Garcia’s own research, she discovered that pomegranates have cultural symbolism for fertility and a womb.
Garcia has used pomegranates as a symbol of her own womb in several paintings, including “Loss.”
The speculum in “Loss” represents the pain that Garcia felt during several examinations and biopsies.
“These instruments that are used when we have our pap smears and other exams are painful,” Garcia said. “A biopsy was extremely traumatic. I found out later that I hadn’t received any type of pain relief. I felt it all and I remember wanting to pass out.
The pomegranate juice in the painting depicts the blood loss Garcia remembers experiencing throughout her battle with cancer.
“They leave you in a room [afterward] to get dressed, and they left all the instruments out, and it was like a murder scene,” Garcia said. “I used this imagery to show people how raw it is to experience something like this.”
Despite losing all of her reproductive organs, Garcia says she now feels more like a woman than ever.
“Although it was very heartbreaking not to be able to carry a child, it was at the same time very liberating not to have the pressure to have children; and I felt like I could really be a sensual, powerful woman when I removed those organs because they were causing me so much pain,” Garcia said.
A source of light during tough times like this in Garcia’s life has been his niece, Xiomara.
Xiomara, who just turned 3, has been a big part of Garcia’s healing process.
This is illustrated by a table titled “Dissipating”, which includes charcoal, oil pastels and pencil on paper.
“I used her image and a scene from one of my hospital visits, with grenades on the ground, then I had Xiomara hold a watering can and dilute the pain,” Garcia said.
“Dissipating” features one of Garcia’s favorite mediums to use, charcoal.
“There’s something about charcoal, the deep dark black is so beautiful to me. The way you can manipulate it to be very dark or very light, and the fact that it just comes from the earth and you can do so much with it, [is beautiful].” Garcia said.
Garcia hopes her art connects and resonates with people in a way that encourages them to do something bold. There were times in Garcia’s life when she felt stagnant, and painting helped her see other opportunities. She hopes others might experience the same.
“We all have these very different, yet very similar lives, and we need each other way more than we care to believe,” Garcia said.
The organic, healthy parts of life are what’s most important to Garcia, and art is one of those things.
She explained that the art has been used since ancient times and by her ancestors, and said she hopes it never becomes a lost practice.
“We are all creators. You might think you’re not, but we all are,” Garcia said.
As Garcia nears graduation next semester, she prepares for the next chapter in her life, and love for her community is what could lead her to her next creative adventure.
“I really want to try teaching on my own, not in a school district or whatever, but doing something where I’m my own boss because I work better that way,” Garcia said. “I have lived so long for others. I’m such a different person now, and I can’t go back.
After overcoming and sharing such traumatic life events, Garcia said she now feels more powerful and alive than ever.
“It’s scary, but it feels so good afterwards,” Garcia said. “It’s the first time in my life that I feel completely free.”