Esteban Jefferson

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Artist Statement

I grew up in New York to a white mother and black father, and my work is mostly a reflection of my worldview as it develops and the issues that shape it. Growing up in New York, the prevalent issues have been race, class, and construction, and the ways all three intersect. I’d like to explain a little more about some of my recent ongoing projects:


“About 70 percent to 75 percent of the people described as committing violent crimes — assault, robbery, shootings, grand larceny — are described as being African American. The percentage of people who are stopped is 53 percent African-American. So really, African-Americans are being under-stopped in relation to the percentage of people being described as being the perpetrators of violent crime. The stark reality is that a crime happens in communities of color.”

Ray Kelly, NYPD Commissioner, May 1st, 2013, in response to rising criticism of the NYPD’s controversial stop-and-frisk program

The statement above is what triggered this series of paintings. It showed, to me, a remarkable lack of empathy, and a fundamental inability to see people of certain racial makeups as individuals. Systematically in America, depending on the shade of your skin, you either are or are not allowed to be viewed as an individual, not a statistic. I decided to paint large-scale portraits of black and Hispanic friends of mine, who would fall within the net of those who could be stopped-and-frisked without cause. I bring friends to my studio, light them with direct, complementary-colored gels and photograph them, and then turn these photographs into large, finely detailed, imposing paintings. I view this as subverting a traditional canon of art that people of color are usually left out of, and in this way Understopped functions as a questioning of visual hierarchies and how images are used to advance political motives. My friends are at once distinct individuals, but through the repetitive and dominant aesthetic choices (lighting, color, framing), still subject to an overwhelming system.

Understopped is a project that I am still working on, but eventually I would like to make between 4 and 7 66” x 66” paintings in this series; I like the idea that this implies a potentially endless system. Scale is an important aspect of these pieces: the large scale (66” x 66”) and proportion of the works metaphorically invert the racial power structure, while also referencing a variety of common media. While I began them as heavily political paintings, now I’m more interested in their face-value lack of overt political commentary. They are simple paintings, but because race is a factor, they become a litmus test of the viewer. Questions I’ve been asked during studio visits are “why are there no white people?” or “is he a rapper?” These questions reveal more about modern America, and the viewer, than the paintings themselves do.


Ed Ruscha talks about the way combinations of two seemingly unrelated, but compelling, images can create a pleasurable and interesting tension [1], and I think that is what is happening with these drawings. I began making them as a way to relax and make something small while continuing to work on the Understopped paintings. At first I tried to ascribe particular meaning to them; they are called Silica because when I started making them there was a lawsuit going on in my parents’ building about unsafe construction during renovation (to turn the building condo) which led to long-term silica exposure for rent-controlled tenants. At the same time, I was working for an artist making pastel drawings in an unsafe work environment, and began thinking a lot about the ways in which socioeconomic disadvantage force you into unhealthy situations, which creates a vicious cycle. I thought that these drawings were subconsciously addressing that; I later decided that to some extent that was bullshit, but that they may still be subconsciously addressing something, or that they may just be a relief from the very conscious process of making the Understopped paintings. Either way, I like them, and would like to eventually make a book of these drawings, when I have enough of them. The titles are taken from things I was listening to or reading about when making the drawings.

91 Canal Street:

This print is part of an ongoing project memorializing demolished buildings around the city. Because of the ways that zoning laws and property ownership work in New York, buildings remain standing while boarded up for months or years before the demolition and construction process begins. When I see a building slated for demolition that appeals to me aesthetically, I photograph it and digitally remove everything surrounding the building, before filling in an imagined architectural blueprint of the building. Growing up in New York, especially with two architects for parents, construction cycles and the consistently changing architectural landscape of New York are very interesting to me, and often the sight of a new planned building leaves me with mixed feelings. These prints serve as monuments to buildings that would otherwise be forgotten, at least by me.

One Week Book:

One Week Book is an ongoing annual project, of which there are currently two volumes (2014 and 2015). The idea initially came out of a desire to be more prolific, given the slow rate my normal studio practice generally moves at. I decided to make a project that would be defined by limitations, especially a limitation on time (an idea that itself came out of the One Year Performances of Tehching Hsieh). Every year I make a One Week Book, with the idea being that in 25 years I’ll have 25 distinct One Week Books. The purpose of these books is not to make a masterpiece, but rather to push myself outside of my comfort zone by forcing myself into a time crunch. This time crunch allows me to explore new areas I’m interested in, such as writing, and so far have been very cathartic.

[1] “TateShots: Ed Ruscha”,




Columbia University, New York, NY

Bachelor of Arts, Major in Visual Art, May 2011

2011 Recipient of the Nicholas F. and Frances N. Artuso Fund Scholarship

The National Academy of Design / School of Fine Arts, New York, NY

Student from 2002 – 2007

2006 Recipient of the Stanley R. & Robert E. Wright Foundation for the Arts National Scholarship



The Robert Blackburn Printmaking Workshop
2015 Studio Immersion Project (SIP) Fellowship
July 25th – August 1st, 2015
Studio Immersion Project (SIP) is an intensive 3-month studio fellowship designed to immerse artists in the world of printmaking. SIP Fellows acquire new techniques and build upon existing skills. Artists are chosen by an independent three-person interdisciplinary panel in a blind jury, and are given a four-part stipend to complete their projects.

The Residency at McDonald’s
July 25th – August 1st, 2014
The Residency at McDonald’s, an intensive, weeklong residency program for emerging artists in a post studio art world, seeks to bring together a gifted and diverse group of individuals who have demonstrated commitment to art making and inquiry to create the most stimulating and rigorous environment possible for a concentrated period of artistic creation, interaction and growth, all within the conflation of the privately owned and the publicly occupied space that McDonald’s offers.


D:FANG (Disambiguation: For A New Generation),
December 20th 2011 – January 10th 2012, Salomon Arts, New York City

Senior Thesis Exhibition
April 7th – 12th 2011, May 2nd – 18th 2011, LeRoy Neiman Center Gallery, New York City

Drawing Into Print
December 2009, LeRoy Neiman Center Gallery, New York City