Esteban Cabeza de Baca

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Artist Statement

If I could stay in New Mexico humbly painting for the rest of my life I would. But I feel an obligation to gain pictorial agency for me and my community. I came to New York to explore what it means to be a painter and I have come away with painting meaning rigorous authenticity. Overtime I’ve had to wrestle with the idea of being a painter. Sometimes being a dedicated painter is such an alienating meditation that it draws you closer to who you are as a human being. Painting draws you away from the people you care about but loops back. I believe the deeper you delve into your paintings the more it bends you into your past. Painting outdoors helps me commune with my dead ancestors while confronting the history of landscape painting in America. In my painting “Window Rock”, I created an image of a sacred site in the four corners area of the American Southwest in one sitting. This site is a naturally charged gateway where words and description fail when envisioning this land. My ancestor Alvar Nunez would say how warm Indigenous people were to him at the end of his journey in the Southwest. He started out as a colonizer, then a slave to Native Americans and finally a faith healer who advocated a grand alliance with Indigenous peoples. I think a lot about his chronicles when I’m painting. But representing the South West with the tools of the colonizer is not enough. So I employ reverse drips and splatters on “Window Rock” to exhume the fallout in our environment through mining. Resource extraction of my homeland expressed by abstraction is my weapon to engage the present. With abstraction I can extract my emotions about government policy and take back misappropriated forms.

Observational painting from life nourishes me. Painting from life connects me to nature, my perception and painting. I scout different locations and paint en plein aire quickly in one sitting like a snapshot in time. Painting quickly with nature watching me makes my marks fresh with a life of their own. I go location scouting to predetermined sites but end up finding something along the way more interesting than the destination. I enjoy realities curves so I strive for a fluid in-balance in my work between reality and my imagination. When everything is set in my mind and matter I paint on 1ft by 1ft masonite panels on-site in many different locations from the deserts of New Mexico to the buildings of Wall Street.

If I am denied entrance to paint then I imagine a way in. For instance, painting along the streets around Wall Street and Trump Plaza denied me access to these corporations but through observational painting I probe the boundaries of what can be represented. I spend weeks finding public areas where I can work doing site specs without interruption. Over time I gather enough field observations for my exorcism of corporate space.
Later in the studio I decide which 1ft by 1ft observational painting to blow up to 6ft by 6ft. The best observational painting is the one that fits my agency in the present. For instance, in my work “White Mask Red Skin” I painted an observational image of the inside of Brown Brothers Harriman bank across the street from my old studio in Lower Manhattan. I wanted to bring transparency to one of the world’s largest banks. Initially I wanted these corporate figures inside the building to be enacting fantastic debaucheries. But after watching these office workers for months I realized it was more captivating to paint bankers in the cubicle as they actually are rather than how I want them to appear.

I finished off “White Mask Red Skin” with a White Masked character enacting a ritualized flaying of the corporate buildings skin. If I use cultural signifiers it’s not to co modify my spirituality or selling of my culture. Instead I’m interested in granting my culture space with honor while confronting the history of the United States. I see my cast of historic and mythological characters interrogating white America and the white canvas. These characters are my voice for the anger I feel constantly walking through this country thinking about the senseless horrors waged on my ancestors.

The history of landscape painting in the United States largely ignores depicting the traumas of the landscape. When I paint I can’t help but think about what has been taken and what has persevered.



2014- MFA Columbia University, School of the Arts, New York.
2010- BFA The Cooper Union, School of the Arts, New York


2016 Bluer Than A Sky Weeping Bones, GAA Gallery, Provincetown, MA.


Scent, Dickinson Roundell Gallery, NY., NY.
Drums Along the Hudson, Indian Road Café, NY.,NY.
Manahatta: Today, Leroy Neiman Center for Art, NY.,NY.
Thesis Exhibition, Emily Fisher Landau Center for Arts, LIC., NY.
Networking tips for shy people, Livingston Gallery, Brooklyn, NY.
1st year Show, Wallach Gallery, Columbia University, New York
Magical Thinking, Livingston Street Gallery, Brooklyn, New York
Group Drawing Show, Tompkins Projects, Brooklyn, New York
Powers That Be, 41 Cooper Union Gallery, New York, New York


Gamblin Painting Prize, Columbia University.
Betty Lee and and Aaron Stern Fellowship, Columbia University

William Randolph Hearst Scholarship, The Cooper Union

Full Tuition Scholarship, The Cooper Union


2017 Rijksakademie, Amsterdam, Netherlands.
2016 LMCC Workspace Program, New York, NY.
2015 Sharpe-Walentas Studio Program, Brooklyn, NY.
2014 Byrdcliffe Residency, Woodstock, NY.


2014 New American Painters MFA, April Issue, Boston, MA.
2013 Prioleau, Chris. Apogee Journal, Issue Two (April 2013): Front cover – Back cover art.
2011 Cooper Union Administration, Course Catalog, Spring 2011, pg. 46
2008 Cooper Union Administration, At Cooper (Fall 2008 )Back Cover.
2007 The Boston Globe: sideKick, “I Love You Mary Jane”, cover
2005 The Denver Post: section, “Masked…”, cover.