One to Watch

Javiera Estrada Investigates the Complexities of the Subconscious Mind

A self-proclaimed seeker of the spiritual, Javiera Estrada views each of her photographs as a type of self-portrait. Memories, the subconscious, and polarities between darkness and light serve as the inspiration for many of her works, which range from traditional photographs to mixed media collages. She captures everything from the feminine form to nebulous drops of ink in precise detail, attributing each composition as an exploration, both of her artistic practice and of herself.

Javiera was born in Mexico and now lives and works in the United States. She was the winner of the 2017 ND Award in the Fine Art category and the 2014 ART SLANT Juried Competition. She was a finalist in both the Cirque de Soleil Technology Meets Art Competition and Focus Photo L.A. Competition in 2015. Her first short film, titled The Dream, was selected in Best of Shorts at the Carmel International Film Festival last year. Javiera has had four solo shows in Los Angeles and has shown her works in exhibitions and art fairs in the US, China, Singapore, and Switzerland.

What are the major themes you pursue in your work?

The search for meaning and the comprehension of it is the underlying theme in all of my work. This is segmented into the complexities of the subconscious mind, dreams, and the polarities between darkness and light. I am fascinated with this ephemeral experience we call life. Our own mortality, in my opinion, is the most powerful subject one can explore, as any question preceding it is extraneous. In addition, I find the feminine form to be crushingly beautiful and am mesmerized by its multifarious expressions. There is something quite magical in stripping away all material objects and capturing a woman in her most vulnerable and organic nature.

How did you first get interested in your medium, and what draws you to it specifically?

At the age of 6 I knew that I wanted to be an artist. This, of course, oscillated between a multitude of arts including dance, music, and fine art. At 16, I was gifted a Nikon film camera along with some beautiful lenses. This was the catalyst for my obsession with photography. I always envied painters and wished that I was able to channel my ideas onto canvas.

Unfortunately, I did not have that gift which is why this medium was so attractive to me. I tend to move very fast and need immediate gratification, therefore making photography the most natural match for me.

How has your style and practice changed over the years?

My style is constantly evolving. I would say the spirit behind the work is consistent but the way in which I express it changes. I don’t like being pigeonholed into one avenue, which is why some bodies of work are drastically different. Whether it’s a colorful abstract or a black and white nude, I feel that the essence of the work is the same, a discovery of the self.

My first series was aesthetically very dark and moody. They were large-scale nudes wearing masks adhered to wood and covered in resin. I was full of youthful vigor and moved very fast which caused a lot of frustration. Today, I am more methodical, meticulous, and conscious when I create. I no longer run to Home Depot at 10pm to buy supplies for whatever crazy idea I had an hour before. I now sit with an idea for a LONG time before I take action to make sure I am happy with the path I’m committing to.

In recent years, I have also observed my work is getting progressively lighter in subject matter and brighter in its color palette. I still love shooting black and white film and can’t imagine ever stopping. I am now allowing myself to wander through a color explosion and enjoy it.

Can you walk us through your process? Do you begin with a sketch, or do you just jump in? How long do you spend on one work? How do you know when it is finished?

My process varies depending on the series. There are shoots that occur organically, such as my underwater abstracts with ink and flowers. I started experimenting with ink and flowers in water and through that came the works of Pillars of Creation and Fleur de Sel series.

Then there are some series such as Salt + Sea, an ongoing project that started in 2009, where many of the images were sketched beforehand. It’s usually a combination of a preconceived idea and the magic of capturing what reveals itself in the moment. I don’t work linearly and find that most of my series are never “completed” as I find a burst of fresh imagination and return to them periodically for a few months while I have 3 or 4 other projects I’m simultaneously working on. I follow the flow of inspiration and sometimes that takes me on windy roads.

In regards to knowing when a piece is finished, that is something which continues to challenge me. I may sit with an image or collage for months or even years before I feel that I have the contrast or color grading just right. Sometimes, the best thing to do is walk away and be done, otherwise it will drive you crazy.

Who are your favorite writers?

I am a voracious reader and love literature so much that I’ve been hosting a book club for over 6 years. I am partial to the dense classics, especially Russian authors such as Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy. Not unlike my creative process, I like to struggle a bit in order to find meaning.

There are so many writers I love. A few off the top of my head are Patti Smith, Herman Hesse, Jeffrey Eugenides, Milan Kundera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Edgar Allen Poe.

What are some of your favorite experiences as an artist and why?

I love new experiences and I find it very fulfilling as an artist as each project opens doors to new worlds. For example, last year, I was working on a mural in Atlanta in a run-down part of town where not an hour went by before hearing the colorful commentary of the homeless. They were curious and excited to have art on the wall and I could see that my work was impactful to their environment. There were many discussions on what the piece meant and how they felt about it.

On the other end of the spectrum, I was flown in a glass helicopter over an incredible property to photograph a landscape in North Carolina for a commission. It’s truly amazing how unique and distinct each creative experience can be. I’m currently working on a collaboration with PicsArt, a cool photography, collage, and sticker app. We will be doing a creative challenge with their online community inspired by my collage work. Artists in the community will use photographs from my In the Bedroom series and cover them with the vintage collage stickers that they can download. In the end, we will choose our favorites and make an animated GIF. It’s exciting for me to be working with a new platform and medium and I’m interested to see what the results will be!

About the Author

Jessica McQueen is Associate Curator at Saatchi Art. Need help finding art? Contact her via our free Art Advisory service at