Objects of affection
Alex Estrada, Ocala’s emerging artist-best in show winner, muses on “pride, visibility and a sense of belonging.”
The objective becomes highly subjective for Alex Estrada, a recent graduate of the University of Central Florida’s Bachelor of Fine Arts program and Best of Show recipient in the city of Ocala and Magnolia Art Xchange 2022 Student and Emerging Artist Competition “Content of Character.”
Estrada’s dreamlike abstract painting “Intertwine” took top honors in the show. The colorful, shimmering acrylic painting depicts a pair of sneakers. Emphasis on seemingly minor details, such as reflections and stunning color combinations, distinguish the work and deliver maximum impact.
“I like the overlapping forms they created and used lots of artistic liberty when choosing colors and forms within the flat surfaces,” he said.
But how do his Nikes relate to “Content of Character”?
“I think a lot of what you own and a lot of what you like to wear is very intertwined with how you want to express yourself in the world,” he explained. “I really like being seen and being visible with what I choose to wear and how I choose to express myself. I guess that stems from coming from an education system where we always had to wear the same polo. … Coming into adulthood, choosing what I want to wear and how I want to express to myself, I really like things that are colorful, things that are very bright and things that are just kind of like very complex when you look at them.”
With works that reside on a spectrum between abstract and representational, Estrada crafts visual landscapes that build on architectures of form from a variety of references and imaginary origins, according to his artist statement.
His recent works have explored materiality, juxtaposing disparate, real and tangible objects while distorting, magnifying or simply calling attention to his subject’s details. Highlights of their details, aspects that might otherwise go unnoticed, are emphasized. Objects can range from being culturally significant to everyday materials.
But Estrada doesn’t limit his sources for inspiration and opportunities to collaborate. He’s painted a self-portrait and assisted a project centered on the book “Station Eleven” (also an HBO series) in “UCF Celebrates the Arts 2018.”
“As a collective we stretched large scale canvases, created cut-out wood figures and paintings on these materials in response to the book,” he explained.
The pieces were exhibited in the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts.
“It was the first time I got to learn about all these art handling skills and it provided me with a foundation for a career working in the arts,” he said, adding a shout-out to professors Carla Rossi Poindexter and Amer Kobaslija for their guidance during his college career.
“I’ve always been really interested in just building color and shape and form and painting the complexity and the beauty and all of the shine and reflection that can come through even the most mundane object,” Estrada shared.
The first-generation Mexican American artist was born in Chicago, grew up in Mexico and St. Cloud, and has worked in painting, drawing and printmaking. Lately, he prefers acrylic paints.
“I love acrylic,” he effused. “It’s so fast, fast drying. It can blend really well because it can get kind of pasty and thick and create these beautiful effects.”
On a more ephemeral level, pride, visibility and a sense of belonging are values filtered through his works. He identifies as a gay man and praises the support and inspiration of the central Florida gay community. He says he’s encouraged by the positive energy of this year’s Pride Month, especially in the wake of controversial state legislation that forbids language related to LGBT themes in K-12 schools.
“Ever since I became an adult and I started being very much more active with my communities, I’ve noticed how people have been talking and how even high schoolers were responding to those bills that were trying to be passed,” he said. “I see a lot of very positive, galvanized emotions being expressed by big groups of people.”
What’s next for the Best in Show artist?
“I’m working on creating more paintings, kind of exploring the same close-up imagery. I’m trying to build a portfolio to go back to graduate school,” he said.
He’s still undecided on where to go. Florida, so far, has gotten under his skin and become a source of inspiration.
“There’s a lot of different beauty here from the beaches to our more natural areas to even the theme parks and industrial areas,” Estrada mused.
“I think Central Florida is a very inspirational place, but if you were to ask me a few years ago, I probably wouldn’t have said that, but I do think as you age, you kind of like grow to appreciate smaller things more.”
“Content of Character” will be on display 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays through July 15 at City Hall, 110 SE Watula Ave., Ocala.