Jacobsen was born in Ramona, California and had a Mormon upbringing there. He later moved to San Francisco and studied at the San Francisco Art Institute. He has worked as a care-giver for the blind and disabled.
For the San Francisco group show "17 Reasons" (2003) he draped a public bronze commemorative tablet with packing boxes and fruit crates, altered with paint, glue, collage, watercolors, and pencil. Matthew Higgs, another participant in the exhibition, invited him to stage an installation at White Columns in New York City. His White Columns exhibition in 2005 consisted of cardboard signs and labels, a clock, photographs and drawings based on photographs.
His pencil drawings and watercolor paintings are based on found snapshots. He makes two versions. The first is an exact rendering of the image, and the second is drawn from memory. The artist describes his subject as the way "the dream of memory gets watered down and changes".
- Johnny Ray Huston, A present from the past p1, San Francisco Bay Guardian, July 11, 2006.
- Johnny Ray Huston, A present from the past p2, San Francisco Bay Guardian, July 11, 2006.
- Kevin Killian, Goldie winner -- Visual art: Colter Jacobsen, San Francisco Bay Guardian, Nov 7, 2007.
- Roberta Smith, Even a Little Space Can Hold an Abundance of Ideas, The New York Times, Nov 25, 2005.
- Julian Myers, Colter Jacobsen, Frieze, Sept 2007.
- 2010 SECA Art Award, Juxtapoz, Dec 07, 2011.