Javier Fuentes reconnects with his cultural roots via trippy digital illustrations
Cuban multi-media artist and designer Javier Fuentes illustrates the mundane and ritualistic aspects of life as an immigrant in his recently launched project, Xtrano. Based on his personal experiences, Xtrano captures distant memories of his time in Latin America.
A sense of identity can come from all sorts of places, including areas that, on the surface, would appear mundane. That's part of the thought process behind Javier's trippy digital illustrations for Xtrano, which see everyday items such as a can of pinto beans and household cleaning products become loaded with nostalgic significance.
"The concept was born out of the need to reconnect with my roots and the desire to illustrate distant memories from my time in Latin America," Javier tells Creative Boom. "Being an immigrant forces you to adapt to a new environment, and you can lose part of your cultural identity in the process."
To recapture this cultural identity, Javier spotlights objects and products you would only find in Latinx immigrant households in the US. These include Bustelo, a brand of coffee which is a staple of kitchen cupboards for Cuban-Americans, plus Fabuloso, a household cleaner favoured by the Latinx community.
"I wanted to keep the visuals ambiguous and open to the viewer's interpretation," says Javier. "That's why I use objects instead of people as the main subjects in my pieces." To add to this ambiguity, Javier's images turn the saturation up to eleven, which results in the colours appearing neon, almost scorching hot. It's a dynamic contrast between the everyday and the hyper-real, one which helps to evoke a sense of nostalgia for a time that has passed.
Speaking of how he worked on Xtrano, Javier said: "It's a very mixed media process. Typically it starts with me actually arranging the still life by hand and photographing it or creating a 3D rendering if I don't have access to the products/props needed to illustrate my idea. Then they go through a series of digital manipulations to get the result. I typically stick to the same colour palette to have some cohesion."
Suitably enough, the project name appears to be a deviation from the Spanish word extraño, which translates into English as strange. It's an appropriate title for a project which warps familiar images into something unrelatable and other. And by the sounds of it, estrangement is exactly what Javier has felt throughout his career.
"Moving to Boston in 2006 was a bittersweet experience," he reveals. "Having moved from Cuba to Venezuela in the early '90s, I already knew what starting from scratch felt like, but it was a bit harder the second time around because I was older and had to leave some friends and family behind. Also, culture shock is a real thing."
It wasn't all bad news, though, by the sounds of it: "On the other hand being here has shaped my creative career and opened lots of doors. I've also met some amazing friends and my wife."
As well as working on projects such as Xtrano, Javier also works as a designer and art director by trade. And after years of working for other local agencies and in-house departments, he decided to launch his own creative studio called Barnada.
"I work on branding for a wide range of clients," Javier explains. "It's just me at the moment, but the plan is to evolve and become something still boutique but a little bigger.
"We are a creative studio specialising in branding, design, and marketing strategy. We collaborate with our clients to develop a compelling brand identity and help tell their unique story, with the belief that effective branding transcends the trends."