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Jordan Casteel Stays in the Moment

November 17, 2017

How does an artist connect with her subjects in the solitude of her studio? Artist Jordan Casteel reflects on the complex dynamic between herself and her subjects while adjusting to the recent commercial success of her paintings. Celebrating the opening of her first solo gallery exhibition at Casey Kaplan in Chelsea, Casteel is joined by the men featured in her portraits who revel in their oil likenesses. “I feel like a superstar,” says one subject, Quentin, “I can’t stop blushing.”

In her studio at the Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts in midtown Manhattan, Casteel reflects on how she uses photography to capture a subject in an instant, before spending hours investigating every detail of the scene. “It’s my way of trying to reconnect with the immediacy that happens if you’re sitting in front of somebody,” says the artist. “The camera has really become a liaison between me and the sitter. It gives me time to slow down before I go fast.”

One subject, Louie, met Casteel on 125th Street in Harlem where he sells his own artwork as the clothing brand Young Style Designs. “Jordan, her work is on showcase, you’ve got to go inside an establishment,” he says. “I’m more of a street hustler, I get it out right on the cement concrete block.” A Harlem resident herself, Casteel intends to continue focusing on Black men in her work—not as characters but as people. “I have somehow found a way to weasel myself into a one-percent opportunity within the art market,” says the artist. “With access comes responsibility.”

More information and credits


New York Close Up Series Producer: Nick Ravich. Director & Producer: Vicky Du. Editor: Bryan Chang. Cinematography: Jeffrey Sterrenberg, Eric Phillips-Horst, Mariam Dwedar. Additional Camera: Orian Barki. Sound: Vicky Du, Eric Phillips-Horst. Production Assistant: Ife Adelona. Design & Graphics: Open, Urosh Perisic. Artwork Courtesy: Jordan Casteel. Music Supervisor: Abhita Austin. Music Courtesy: Bandesla, Keishh. Thanks: A-Thug, Charles L. Casteel, Lauren Y. Casteel, The Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts, Frieze Magazine, Casey Kaplan, Interview Magazine, Veronica Levitt, Louie, Meerkat Media, Quentin, Jamie Russell, Jason Wyche, Zen. © Art21, Inc. 2017. All rights reserved.

New York Close Up is supported, in part, by The Lambent Foundation; public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council; VIA Art Fund; and by individual contributors.

Closed captionsAvailable in English, German, Romanian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Italian

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Jordan Casteel

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.

“I’ve always had an inclination towards seeing people who might be easily unseen.”

Jordan Casteel

Connecting with Subjects

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Margaret Kilgallen

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The questions and activities included in this guide are recommendations for incorporating Art21 films featuring Jordan Casteel into your classroom.

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