Boers-Li Gallery, New York, presents Esteban Cabeza de Baca’s first solo exhibition in New York. Worlds without Borders features the artist’s latest work, questioning the notion of borders between nations, races, and species.
Cabeza de Baca employs graffiti techniques, mythological symbols, and pre-Columbian pictorial languages in his paintings and sculpture to deconstruct the linear representation of time and space.
Landscape is essentially a picture that depicts a world. Throughout histories it has been romanticized in such ways that the land is flattened into a fantasy of wilderness rather than an interconnected ecology where mankind, animals, plants, and the land share equal and reciprocal relationships. In the eyes of colonial settlers, landscape represented a new world to conquer, to possess, and to control. Returning the gaze of colonialism and imperialism requires dismantling its infrastructure – the perspective from which it views the world and the ways in which it is framed and constructed. Cabeza de Baca seeks to unlearn the traditional disciplines of constructing a painting and the means by which painting is perceived; instead, he explores ‘how to create a space without borders’, embodying this philosophy of hybridity through making.
The spiral is a recurrent motif in Cabeza de Baca’s painting. Its manifold forms speak to cultures of varied geographical locations. Spirals are foundational to the petroglyphs at the Bandelier National Monument in New Mexico, a place of importance for Cabeza de Baca and his family that he often visits for inspiration. In Tsankawi (2018), Cabeza de Baca creates a visual paradox in Cartesian perspective. A totem and a spiral at the center block the formation of one single-point perspective into the horizon line of a distant landscape. Cave-like structures, amorphous animal shapes and eyes come to the fore. Shafts of light shine through the openness of the cave. The artist captures that moment in time and space.
Cabeza de Baca reflects on maps as representation of borders. Dreamers (2018) exposes patches of color in hues like that of the soil distinctive to the Southern States. This forms the ground under spray-painted black lines crafting a confrontation between two creatures. Circle in a Square (2019) and Circle and a Square (2019) reference maps of the Southwest. Symbolically-chosen colors and semi-legible handwriting denote the forced relocation of Native American tribes from their homelands, juxtaposed with states’ voting outcomes in the last presidential election. Kiral 1-4 (2019) (a Chemistry term defining perfect symmetry among assembled molecules) disperse elements of landscape into a vignette of refracted painting, a mirroring image, a mask where humans see themselves through nature.
Adjacent to his paintings, Cabeza de Baca’s sculpture works will be installed in the gallery animating his painted worlds. Reminiscent of totems, figures, masks, vases, and tools, his sculpture is often made from soil, including terra cotta, as well as porcelain, metal, wood, fabric, and bricks, some of which are spray painted. While painting in his studio, Cabeza de Baca surrounds himself with the sculptural pieces, staring at them and being stared back at – an ongoing conversation where morphic resonance produces memories within material.
Esteban Cabeza de Baca (b.1985) grew up in San Ysidro, one of the largest border towns between the United States and Mexico. He has attended many residencies including the Drawing Center’s Open Sessions, the Rijksakademie van beeldende kunsten, the LMCC Workspace Program and the Sharpe-Walentas Studio Program. His works are among the public and private collections worldwide, including De Nederlische Banke, Stern Collection, and De Heus Collection. He holds a BFA from The Cooper Union and an MFA from Columbia University where he currently teaches painting. He lives and works in Queens, NY.all images © the gallery and the artist(s)