Denver Artist Spotlight: The Divine Nature Creations of M.D. Art | Westword
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Denver Artist Spotlight: The Divine Nature Creations of M.D. Art

"The two things that kept me grounded were making art and being in nature."
Monica's work intertwines nature and the divine self.
Monica's work intertwines nature and the divine self. RBKnight
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The Denver artist Monica, who goes by her first name only, had a childhood steeped in art. Her mother put a paintbrush in her hand when she was just two years old, and painting in the bathtub is one of her earliest memories. "I remember barely being able to talk, but [art] was a language of its own I could understand," says Monica, who now owns her own business, M.D. Art.

She grew up as a Navy brat, and her family's frequent moves (and subsequent rental apartments) meant bathtubs were one of the few places Monica was allowed to paint. During her tumultuous childhood, "there were really only two constants besides my mother's love," she says. "The two things that kept me grounded were making art and being in nature. And those two things have really carried over into my adulthood. They're the most important things in my life today."

The instability took a toll on her mental health — by thirteen years old, Monica was depressed and self-harming. Her parents, sensing that something had shifted, decided to home-school her and enrolled her in classical painting lessons with a professional oil painter. Art became her preferred form of self-therapy.

"That deep depression and self-mutilating tendency impacted my art a lot before I started creating art to be viewed by other people," she says. "Instead of hurting myself, I would use art to get through difficult times." Oil paints are still her favorite medium.

Despite her intense love for painting, Monica didn't consider pursuing art full-time until the pandemic. "I didn't want to slave away for the Man anymore," she laughs. "That's when I started making more conceptual pieces that I hoped would resonate with others rather than just channeling what was coming out of my head just for me."

Her work ebbs and flows with her life. During the pandemic, she lived in Wyoming and focused on illustrating the connection she felt with nature, twilight desert landscapes and peaceful forest scenes flowing from her brush. In 2020, she and her partner moved to a 300-acre farm. It became her personal oasis, and her connection with nature flourished.

"I didn't really see other humans for years. I just communed with the cows and the horses and chickens," she says. "And every day, I would go walking out in nature with my dog, and we just had to step out the front door and we'd be there."
click to enlarge woman holding antlers
Monica of M.D. Art.
Courtesy of Monica
The abundance of bones, rocks and feathers inspired her, and she collected, cleaned and painted the natural debris. Each item became a marriage of her life's greatest passions.

"I just felt so connected to the land where I was living, and I wanted to find a way to share some of that with other people and transform it," she says. "I taught myself how to clean skulls and bones, which also made me feel very connected and deeply entrenched in the setting.

"It also ties into my fascination with death," she continues. "I feel like a lot of Westerners have an aversion to death, and a lot of our modern fears boil down to a fear of morality," she adds. "I love to pinpoint that and confront people with death and transform it into something beautiful and illustrate that death is not the end."

Monica attributes her spiritual growth, and her beliefs about death, to the psychedelics that she microdoses. Through mushrooms, she's cultivated a sense of the universe and thinks "there's something mysterious and wonderful out there, and maybe we go there when we die or we can tap into it while we're here," she says. "There's just something magical about that."

That magic, mixed with nature, touches of depression and odes to death is what makes her artistic style unique. She creates complex paintings that ask universal questions, revel in natural beauty and document the emotional duality of human life.

In 2022, Monica and her partner left their desert sanctuary and moved to Denver. The transition from an isolated bubble to urban living has been difficult. She has struggled to connect with nature, and her new awareness of current events feeds thoughts of death and existential dread.

"I feel overwhelmed in crowded places," she adds. "When there are so many people condensed in one place, I feel like there are too many conflicting energies going on, and it muddles my own space."

Although she's sacrificed some of her peace, Monica has found opportunity and a community of like-minded artists in the Mile High City. Her work was in Spectra Art Space's summer exhibit, Plantopia, and was featured at Mint & Serif in September. She won the 2023 Denver Colfax Marathon Mannequin Contest with a galaxy figure speckled with mushrooms titled "Cosmic Chakra Fun-Guy" that now resides in Specta.

She's also found community as a member of the Denver Art Society, where she has an ongoing exhibit. "That was one thing about living in isolation: I didn't have any sense of community at all," she says. "So having a physical community... artistically was something that was totally new to me, and it has been extremely rewarding. The community at large has been so encouraging. It gives me hope to keep pushing on."

First Friday Art Walk, 5-11 p.m. Friday, March 1, at Denver Art Society, 734 Santa Fe Drive.
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