Born in San Ysidro, CA in 1985, Esteban Cabeza de Baca received a BFA from Cooper Union, School of the Arts in 2010 and an MFA from Columbia University in 2014. He currently lives and works in Queens, NY.
Cabeza de Baca’s childhood hometown of San Ysidro virtually straddled the U.S.–Mexico border, as did his family. His father and Mexican-born mother were active participants in the Brown Berets, as well as the Chicano, American Indian, and Black Panther movements. Of Mexican and Native American heritage himself, Cabeza de Baca was heavily influenced by the border town’s liminal position, and by his parents, whose intersectional political awareness and respect for human dignity led them to shelter “illegal” immigrants in their basement during his youth.
In his work, Cabeza de Baca employs a broad range of painterly techniques, entwining layers of graffitti, landscape, and pre-Columbian pictographs in ways that confound Cartesian single-point perspective. His influences range from petroglyphs, from which many of his motifs derive, to Jackson Pollock, who, the artist notes, was in turn influenced by Navajo sand painting. “I want to excavate the impact of colonial acts like that,” he notes. “To go farther with the drip than Pollock did and collide the infinite with the everyday.”
He often begins his works en plein air, recasting the practice of landscape painting, which was once the preferred surveying tool of colonizers. In Tsankawi (2018), the artist depicts the Bandelier National Monument in New Mexico glimpsed from inside a Pueblo cavate. Black spray paint meanders through the picture’s planes, forming abstract shapes that recall the figures in Rembrandt’s The Blinding of Samson. A spiral wall carving floats away from the cave’s walls into the center of the composition, fragmenting perspectival cohesion, and foregrounding the ancient, universal shape. In this and other works, Cabeza de Baca’s hybrid techniques and influences form a complex braid: interrogating the dialectical relationships between colonialism and its critique, between cultural extraction and its inversion.
Cabeza de Baca has received numerous grants and awards including, a Robert Gamblin Painting Grant (2013); a Stern Fellowship, Columbia University (2013); a Sharpe-Walentas Studio Program Award (2014); a Stokroos Foundation Grant (2017); and a Henk en Victoria de Heus Fellowship (2018). His work has been the subject of numerous solo exhibitions, such as: Bluer Than a Sky Weeping Bones, Gaa Gallery, (2016, Provincetown, MA); Unlearn, Fons Welters Gallery, (2018, Amsterdam); Verano, with Heidi Howard, Gaa Gallery, (2018, Wellfleet, MA); Esteban Cabeza de Baca, Gaa Projects (2019, Cologne); Worlds without Borders, Boers-Li Gallery (2019, New York); and Esteban Cabeza de Baca – Life is one drop in limitless oceans … , Kunstfort Vijfhuizen, (2019, Amsterdam). He has participated in over 15 group exhibitions at venues such as the Leroy Neiman Art Center (2014, 2015, New York), the Yale University School of Sacred Music (2017, New Haven, CT), the Dutch Royal Palace (2018, Amsterdam, Netherlands), and the Drawing Center (2019, New York), among others.