Jordan Casteel was born in 1989 in Denver, Colorado. She lives and works in New York. Casteel creates colossal portraits of the people in her community, including former classmates at Yale University, where she received her MFA in 2014; street vendors and business owners in her Harlem neighborhood; and students from her classes at Rutgers University-Newark. Rendered in vibrant hues of amber, lavender, and indigo, Casteel’s oil paintings confront traditional notions of gender and race in portraiture, with the expressed purpose of featuring those who might not otherwise be portrayed on museum walls.
Long committed to social justice, Casteel was working as a teacher in Colorado and painting in the evenings when she realized that she needed to devote herself more seriously to her art practice. After completing her MFA at Yale University, Casteel moved to New York for a residency at The Studio Museum of Harlem, where she became inspired to address ideas of Black masculinity. Casteel began painting portraits of friends, family members, and classmates, posed in intimate settings and posed to look directly at the viewer. The effect is at once tender and powerful, forcing viewers to contend with their preconceived notions of masculinity and race. Casteel’s practice expanded to a near-anthropological pursuit, in which the artist meets and photographs subjects on the streets of her neighborhood of Harlem, transforming strangers to close friends and collaborators. Through Casteel’s larger-than-life paintings, this community of diverse men and women is represented on the walls of museums globally.
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“I needed to find a way to combine my desire to create a sense of visibility around my family and my brothers that was feeling absent at that time.”