Charles Esperanza’s work posted on his X account. @C.G.ESPERANZA / COURTESY
By Kyla Guilfoil, Managing Editor
“The Bronx is the last place you can experience real New York,” Charles Esperanza told the Quadrangle.
He’s an artist who was born and raised in the South Bronx and has stuck around to share his talents with the neighborhood.
Esperanza is an author, an illustrator and a teaching artist. He’s the second born of six kids, surrounded by his brother and four sisters.
He told the Quadrangle that he didn’t see the importance of being from the Bronx until after college. Esperanza studied at the Fashion Institute of Technology, graduating in 2010 with a Bachelor’s degree in illustration.
He said after college he began to question what was next for him and who he was as an artist. This is when he started to feel that connection to the Bronx.
“After college, I realized, you know, the best way that I could develop myself as an artist, and a writer, is to draw on my background and where I come from and my community,” Esperanza said.
Esperanza published his first book as author and illustrator, “Red, Yellow, Blue and a dash of White too!”, in 2015, which showcased his whimsical, bright, fusion style. As he continued to work in the Bronx, both during long hours in his studio and by working with kids, Esperanza published his second book, “Boogie Boogie, Y’all” in 2021.
Esperanza described this as his “first mainstream book” as the book was published by Harper Collins, and “expanded his reach” as an author and artist. He said this book was undeniably inspired by the Bronx and its street art culture.
Esperanza told the Quadrangle that he feels “the Bronx is the last place you can experience real New York,” saying that he feels the other boroughs have lost their authenticity because their communities have become displaced due to rising living and rent costs, among other issues.
“I think the activists in the Bronx really try hard to push back on a lot of that, so it feels very authentic here,” Esperanza said. “It’s super diverse when people come from other places. This is the one of the only places in New York that they can find affordable land and find community. So in that sense, I’m very protective of the Bronx.”
Esperanza said his relationship with the Bronx is “almost a selfish thing” as he has found and taken so much inspiration from the Bronx for his art. He said that he realized that if he wasn’t from the Bronx his art wouldn’t be the same.
“I wouldn’t be able to create the art that I’m creating right now. I don’t know how my art would look, if not for that,” said Esperanza.
Beyond his own art, Esperanza has uplifted children, adolescents and adults across the borough as a teaching artist.
He’s worked with several organizations in New York City and is currently part of the Bronx Space to Connect program by Chashama, a nonprofit organization that supports workspaces for artists in the city and holds workshops, among other services.
Esperanza also currently teaches regular classes at the Concourse House, a women’s and children’s shelter in the Bronx.
Xiomara Malpica-Martinez, manager of the Space to Connect program at Chashama, told the Quadrangle Esperanza is “one of the best teachers I’ve seen.”
“He knows how to work with kids in a very beautiful way,” Malpica-Martinez said. “He knows how to tap into people’s creativity in a way that I really haven’t seen others do before.”
Malpica-Martinez said that she’s worked with Esperanza for about six years since he started working in the program.
“To be a teaching artist, it takes a very specific kind of skill,” Malpica-Martinez said. “And it takes a special kind of person who, you know, who wants to share their skill and knows how to make other people feel invited to, you know, receive it.”
Esperanza said the connection he feels through working with kids in his classes helps inspire him in his personal work.
“Whenever I’m creating a book, I’m like, creating it for my younger self, a person who didn’t consider themselves a reader because comics weren’t taken seriously at that point and weren’t, you know, you weren’t congratulated for reading a comic book,” Esperanza said. “So now I’m like, I want to change all of that.”
He said that the first time he considered becoming an artist was when his kindergarten teacher told him his artwork was good and he should be an artist when he grew up.
“I remember that distinctly being the first time I considered being an artist,” Esperanza said. “So every time I talk to these kids, who I feel like remind me so much of me and my four sisters and my brother, I’m like, I have to just encourage them at every step.”
Jess Rolls, curator at the Concourse House, told the Quadrangle that Esperanza is able to create a welcoming, supportive environment for the women and children at the shelter, enabling them to feel comfortable and able to use art to express themselves.
“Some people can have had a really difficult night or a really difficult day, where [someone] might have even just arrived in the shelter, so no day is the same,” Rolls said. “You don’t quite know what’s in front of you for each workshop… Charles has a very calm, patient, kind of curious energy, and he’s ready to lead with listening.”
Rolls said that she’s worked with Esperanza in the neighborhood for over seven years, but in 2020 his role at the Concourse House was really solidified. Since then, Esperanza has led several projects at the shelter, including murals and an upcoming cookbook with the women and children at the shelter.
Rolls added that in an environment like the shelter, trust and forming relationships are essential. She said that Esperanza has taken the time to build relationships at Concourse House, which makes him such an important and impactful figure in the community.
“He approaches everyone as individuals with their own feelings, own stories and gives space for the kids and the moms to imagine and be creative,” Rolls said.
Esperanza said he is working to make space for the neighborhood in his art, uplifting the community and attempting to change the narrative when it comes to the Bronx.
“I think part of the reason I never considered where I’m from as an important place is because I never really saw myself in anything,” Esperanza said. ‘I never read a comic about somebody like me or somebody where I’m from, you know, that kind of thing…That’s something that I definitely want to give to this new generation.”