Anthony Domínguez abandoned conventional life to become a homeless New York street dweller in 1993. Over the 20 years he maintained that challenging lifestyle, he also created a body of thought-provoking work that found an appreciative audience in the outsider art field. Sadly, he brought his life to an end earlier this year, shortly before his 54th birthday. His body was found on April 20 (Easter Sunday), hanging from a tree in the New Jersey woods, about 70 miles (113 kilometres) west of New York. According to the New York dealer Aarne Anton, whose American Primitive Gallery had represented Domínguez since 1994, the artist had suffered from deep depression following his aunt’s death in Texas earlier this year.
Still from "The Life of An Outdoor Artist" by TajCam (2021) hosted by Clayton Patterson, edited by Taji Ameen and Jade Katz
Domínguez, who was of Mexican, Native-American and Anglo-American ancestry, had been brought up by his father, a commercial artist in Fort Worth, Texas. There, Domínguez studied art and design at Texas Christian University but he dropped out to work as a sign painter. In 1987, he moved to New York and found work as a graphic designer and sign painter. After his father’s death in 1993, he underwent an emotional breakdown. Following a hospital stay, he quit his job, vacated his apartment and abandoned his possessions, never to pay rent or work for wages again. He scavenged for food, slept wherever he could and began making art using found materials.
First he made a series of wearable, black-fabric patches, using homemade stencils and bleach to imprint them with graphic images and cryptic texts. These works gave way to larger narrative scenes in white paint on black fabric, which often depicted skeletons going about ordinary activities in sparely rendered urban settings. Domínguez eventually expanded his art’s cast of characters to include fleshed-out humans, insects, birds and animals. He devised original painting implements that gave him more control over his line and allowed him to create more refined imagery. Reversing his usual procedure, he made black-on-white paintings. Later he incorporating a bold red into some of them. He also taught himself to read music and play a wooden flute, and he included musical notation in some of his art. Most of his paintings ironically critique the society he abandoned, targeting the human foibles, fears, neuroses and ethical blind spots he observed in it. In lieu of a signature, he made a tiny sketch in the bottom, right-hand corner of each of his paintings – a self-portrait stick figure that could be seen opening a door marked with a heart.
Soft-spoken and small in stature, Domínguez displayed a sense of humour about the hardships he had faced. He took quiet pride in his urban survivor’s skills and enjoyed mentoring those who found themselves newly, unwittingly homeless. His New York gallery kept accounts of his earnings from art sales, but he left his funds untouched except to pay for transportation to the distant locales he occasionally visited, including Texas, Greece and India. When he travelled to other places, he lived without a home and on a limited budget. His only other income came from the rare books he sometimes found and sold to book dealers.
Domínguez expressed himself in an idiosyncratic manner. It is reflected in the following comments on two of his favourite themes, death and the absence of security in mortal life. The artist once said, “In our culture, you don’t want to befriend your death. You want to be with things that offer comfort – to be away from that. But that’s the inevitability. Everything is transitory and is leading up to that. We hope to find ourselves on the upside of that, rather than on the downside, because all this is going to be taken away. [...] You put all your hopes in things that are offering security, when, in fact,there is no security.”
by Tom Patterson