by Jerry Slayton
Our October Artist of the Month is Judith Estrada Garcia – an ever-evolving artist, educator, veteran and mother, with an undeniable artistic voice. Her artistic journey was put on hold for many years as she fully devoted herself to serving our country through her military service and raising her family. However, her passion for art has been restored and Judith has been pursuing her artistic practice with a fervor, absorbing and explore new materials and methods as she grows.
A few weeks back I sat down with Judith and we explored three pictures of her work together. These three images span her reemergence as an artist, from roughly 2014 to today. From her past is “Crazy Dreams”, a picture that began her journey back into personal expression. Then a picture from 2-3 years ago, “La Llorona,” a transitional piece that serves as a personal metaphor for struggle. And lastly her most recent work, “Serene.” Through this process of examination, she and I were both delighted to find the common themes in her work, and the areas in which it has changed and grown.
In her own words, “My artistic style is evolving as I learn more about the medium and the figures I select. However, I do know that I am determined to use vibrant colors to express my idea of freedom. Freedom not defined by the lack of autonomy. The freedom of electrical currents dancing in and out and around us. We cannot control these currents They exist regardless of our efforts. However, these currents connect us. This connection is what will save us.”
We began with “Crazy Dreams,” an acrylic painting from 2015. At the time Judith had just reignited her artistic passion, and was confronting a reoccurring nightmare she had been having. “At this point in life I had come out of the military and was working full-time, all while raising my three children as a single mother. Functionally, I was fine, but the inside of me was raging, and in turmoil.”
For me, this piece gives voice to the uncomfortable emotions that Judith was experiencing at the time. The figure in the foreground is depicted as a fragile, flushed-faced young woman, and Judith uses abstraction to give her a curving, yet stable form. She is restricted in the composition by a large black band of color that crosses her chest, almost like a safety belt. Behind her, in a field of dark red color, float three teddy bears, representing Judith’s three children.
In this piece Judith is expressing the disconnect she feels around her. In our interview she describes it as, “a troubled piece”. And so it is, but what it also illustrates is her ability to directly translate her feeling into visuals. This piece helps us see into Judith’s inner world and her desire to communicate difficult human emotion. She concludes, “That’s why I painted it, because I believe that it could bring me through it, it could cure me.”
Next, La Llorona, from roughly 2018. This collage and acrylic painting serves as a transition piece from the struggles Judith expresses in “Crazy Dreams,” to the metaphor of La Llorona, or the weeping woman. At the time Judith was reflecting on her feelings around immigration and the U.S./Mexico border. “I was inspired by La Llorona, even though she is seen as a negative thing in the myth. Her crying by the river seemed appropriate for the way I was feeling about the border, and our river on the Texas border.”
In this picture Judith transforms the figure of the weeping woman by the river, into a more peaceful river guide, perhaps ushering or comforting travelers as they cross the red river. “I tend to be a positive person, and so I can’t remain dark,” says Judith. “It’s my default to turn negative things into positives.”
Regardless of how familiar you may be with the story of the story of La Llorona, Judith’s painting reads as a portrait of complex calmness. The woman is mostly submerged in the river below, but she seems content with that. The colors and textures of her body blend into the water and the surrounding sky. The reds and blues of the background meld together in curving forms that interlock to provide a solid, almost architectural structure. The white lilies, in the bottom right of the picture, symbolize hope at the riverside.
And finally, “Serene,” an oil painting completed during the Coronavirus lockdown of 2020. During that time of uncertainty Judith turned inward to her art, to search through her feelings. “I’ve always painted from a place of feeling. I want to express inner feelings and share how things affect me”. She continues, “I was actually feeling comfortable during that time. I liked staying home. I felt tranquil and reserved, and I was able to learn oil painting. This was a painting that came from that learning. I started using the palette knife in this piece.”
This picture explores the peace that Judith felt during the lockdown, being at home in a comfortable environment. It’s another transitional piece for Judith. Gone are most of the highly saturated colors from previous works. The color pallet is light, even pastel, setting a mood that is open and inviting. The paint is spread across the surface with a buttery consistency, adding a visual weight that gives the figure a solidity. The lounging posture of the figure reflects an inner peace that speaks directly to how Judith was feeling at the time she was painting. It captures an emotional moment, and uses color, texture and form to convey that feeling to others.
As Judith continues to explore a range of emotions and feelings in her work, she has felt herself opening up, and growing more sensitive. “I was so into my job and family, that I just didn’t have time for creativity.” As she has transitioned from that part of life into this new stage of life, she has witnessed, “a pouring out of emotion and feeling.” Judith feels that making pictures is a safe and healthy way to explore and expose these feelings, and I would have to agree.
Good luck Judith, and congratulations on your Artist of the Month recognition. For more information about Judith and her work, please visit www.estradagarciagallery.org.
Stay tuned for our Community Conversation with Judith later this month.