Catalina Estrada: Spinfluences

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It's half past midnight and Catalina Estrada has just strolled in the door from a long evening on the Ramblas. Long, sun-drenched days and wine-soaked nights are standard for this Barcelona-based illustrator, whose work takes life's love and light and amplifies it by thousands of watts.

Estrada, a 32-year-old Libra, was born in Colombia, and the richness of its natural landscapes has never left her mind–the country's striking colors and vibrant flora and fauna are re-imagined in her highly symmetrical and incredibly ornate graphic worlds, where doe-eyed girls and boys (and does) nestle among candy-colored flowers, hummingbirds, and hearts.

Though satirical and nihilist attitudes are en vogue, Estrada isn't afraid to make things that are heartfelt and positive; she says she prefers to create dreamlike utopian escapes rather than respond to squalor and suffering as seen on the nightly news. Her eye-pleasing work has not gone unnoticed, adorning everything from Coca-Cola bottles to snowboards to clothes from Custo Barcelona and Paul Smith. We asked this consummate dreamer to tell us about inspirations from the past and the present.

XLR8R: When did you realize you had your own style?

Catalina Estrada: A few years ago I was doing volunteer work helping foundations in Colombia. I was not getting paid so it allowed me to really think of how I wanted images to look. I decided to put lots of emotion and feeling into the images and that was the point where I created my own style: using lots of colors, lots of light, vivid elements. When you're working for free, you better be sure you like what you are doing.

What are your inspirations?

I've always been very fond of religious imagery. I have been lucky to travel most of my life, and I've been collecting images of folk art from different countries. In Barcelona, the modern art museum is great, and so is the architecture–it has a lot of ornamentation and decoration. I also like lots of Latin American artists and naïve art.

What is your greatest treasure from your travels?

I've been trying to pick up small things so I don't carry around a lot when I travel: stamps and small prints, little pieces of fabric, pieces of wallpaper and patterns from wherever. Since I was little, I've always collected wrapping papers and things like this. My grandmother collected stamps from all over the world, and it was always a great treasure to look at her albums and the art from different countries. Now, I have a box full of papers from everywhere and it's my biggest treasure.

You've recently designed a jewelry collection, Katika, with your brother Nicolas, as well as wrapping paper for Nineteen Seventy Three. What is your dream product to make?

I want to design wallpapers for interiors and houses. And you know what else? I would love to design a whole china set. That's my dream.

Do you ever get the urge to do darker stuff?

As far as a commercial graphic style, this is what clients have seen of my work and this is what they want. In my personal art' did have darker periods and there have been these other images. You just go through different stages and you feel like painting or drawing different subjects. You feel different every day. I have some older stuff that has a lot of wolves in it; for me, they represent fear, either suffering from it or getting over it.

What was your most difficult moment as an artist?

When I lived in Colombia, I wanted to create interesting projects but there was never the budget. I got out of school in 1993 and a graphic design education was not common. You could never achieve what you had in mind. Mostly, I feel very lucky and very thankful to be an illustrator. I don't see it as work so much; it mixes a lot with my art projects so I cannot tell the difference anymore.

Your husband, Pancho Tolchinsky, is a photographer. As a creative person, do you think it's important that your romantic partner be someone creative?

Absolutely. Actually, my husband is a mathematician. He's doing his doctorate in artificial intelligence. He's helped me like crazy in my work. I would have never come to this stage without him. I'm very emotional and he's more rational. He's more analytical, more calmed down. It's a good balance. He's also very critical, and I think that's been very important for me.

What do you listen to while you work?

I listen to music all the time. I love M. Ward, and I just went to see Edith Piaf. The best concert I went to recently was [by San Francisco folk outfit] Vetiver. It was in a really small place and it was so beautiful. Since then, I've listened to them every day. Such a beautiful voice that guy has.

Who are your heroes?

I believe in admiring people, but I don't know about heroism­–it sort of takes the human aspect out of the person. There are people in my family that I admire like crazy but I wouldn't think of them as heroes. I prefer them that way. I like to see people as human with defects and everything.

What is your favorite holiday?

The 7th of December. This is the Virgin's Day in Colombia. My grandfather had a tradition of lighting many, many candles on this day. He was kidnapped for many months and he said if he lived, he would light 2,000 candles for the Virgin Mary. He was returned on December 7th, so every year, this day was like a fairy tale for me.

Are you religious, and how much does that affect your art?

In Colombia, most people are religious. My father's family, especially, was very religious but there was a point where me and my brother just said, "That's enough." It was becoming suffocating. When you go to church, all the paintings are like torture. It's crazy that you wouldn't let your kids see a horror movie, but you'll let them see this. It's terrifying. I love the images for what they are, and they are great pieces of art, but it's crazy that from the time you are a kid, you are looking at so much suffering. As if it was just not enough looking at the news, you go to church and it's all covered with blood and suffering and tears. I prefer to go outside and see nature and take a look at beautiful things.