Esteban Cabeza de Baca

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What is my work about?

I make observational paintings and observational paintings of my dreams. My dream imagery and conscious perception induces lucid dreaming in paint. By fluidly crossing images from different states, my paintings interrogate my perception of landscape and unconscious landscape.


Artist Statement

I am an observational painter. My paintings are produced either in nature or scenery from my dreams. Both environments become color fields I work into paintings. The beauty of dreams are that they exist in shadows. My paintings are the result of decisions about how much I bring to light. To draw dreams out from darkness, I keep a sketch book next to my bed. If a vivid nightmare or scene appears in my dreams I can sketch it once I awake. In order for my unconscious to possess my consciousness I play it out in real life. I intertwine unconscious visions with matching scenes from plein aire painting. I love mixing colors outside where sunlight reveals the shifting chromatic behavior of oil paint more so than paint indoors under synthetic light. Nature helps me match my memories from sleep with what is readily at hand. By bringing shadow imagery out into the light I see how my mind works when I’m not directly paying attention to it. And by paying attention to this imagery I give sovereignty to my own subjectivity.

When I go outside to paint and I come upon a subject I feel it chooses me. It’s a quiet inspiration. When it happens I listen and begin mixing and matching my colors to meet my subject half way. The environment possesses me with its spirits and a particular type of vision. Going outdoors to paint in the city, wilderness or my mind connects me to colonialism’s scar on the American landscape. Echoes in the land remind me of my ancestors who first inhabited this land free yet completely aware of their responsibility to the land and their people. Sometimes painting is complicit with the forces taking away its subjectivity. But I also feel like painting activates a public sphere of engagement. When I go out to paint in the city, random passerby see what I’m doing and occasionally talk to me. Instead of pursuing the reclusive impressionist or noveau realist strategy of painting, I think it’s important to return to community as a painter. By painting on the street I show people that artists aren’t elitists and they show me things about what I’m painting I wouldn’t have seen on my own.

My perception and vantage point are a result of my Indigenous ancestors and the community around me. My participation with my community involves painting its oral traditions and written accounts among other things. Visions and prophetic stories from days past have parallels to dreams. To do justice to this work I focus on evoking rather than portraying a scene. Put in another way I’m interested in expressing a feeling rather than possessing it. It’s important as a painter to get your audience to think but not to tell them what to think. Sometimes my paintings employ abstraction to evoke the unconscious, other times repressed issues need to be directly called out. I paint to see nature deteriorating, indigenous communities holding onto their culture while corporations puppet governments and puppet us. To me painting is a direct line to our collective unconscious. And these lines point to a unified field everyone can feel in it’s creation.

Master of Fine Arts 2014, Columbia University, New York, NY.
Bachelor of Fine Arts 2010, The Cooper Union, New York, NY.


“Drums Along the Hudson”, Indian Road Cafe, Inwood, NY.

May 2015 “Manahattan TODAY”, Gallery of Leroy Neiman Art Center, NY., NY.

“I ♥ Paint”, Angell Gallery, Toronto, Ontario April-May April-May 2014
“MFA Thesis Show”, Fisher Landau Center for Art, Long Island City, Queens April-May 2014                                                “United Against Speculation”, Leroy Neiman Gallery, Columbia University, May 2014

“1st Year Show”, Wallach Gallery, Columbia University, NY. May 2013

“Group Drawing Show”, Tompkins Projects, Bed Stuy, Brooklyn May 2010
“Powers That Be”, 41 Cooper Square, New York, NY. March 2010

LMCC Workspace Program New York, New York 2015-2016
The Sharpe-Walentas Studio Program, Dumbo Brooklyn, NY 2014-2015
Brydcliffe Residency, Woodstock, New York 2014

Robert Gamblin Painting Grant 2013
Betty Lee and Aaron Stern Fellowship 2013
Martin Birnbaum Scholarship 2013
Jefferson H. Rubin Memorial Fund 2003

Bort Quarterly Online Magazine, The Cover, New York, NY
New American Painters MFA, April-May Issue, Boston, MA. 2014
“2011 Course Catalog”, The Cooper Union Course Catalog, pg. 46 January 2011
“I Love You Mary Jane”, THE BOSTON GLOBE: sidekick, cover May 11th, 2007