Jordan Casteel at New Museum (Feb. 2020)

This post was originally written in February 2020. It is relevant now to our audience because Jordan Casteel, born 1989 in Denver, won a MacArthur Foundation fellowship in 2021.

Right before the pandemic called art-going off in New York and elsewhere, she shared the marquee of a dual solo, two one-artist shows that opened at the New Museum in 2/20. (The other was Peter Saul with psychedelic, Vietnam War-era shouts against the machine.)

Casteel, a Denver-born and Yale MFA artist, had a solo exhibit in 2018 at Denver Art Museum. A residency at Studio Museum in Harlem in 2015 found her refining her approach to her subjects, an approach which appears deliberately random in the art-historical sense of random meetings or random subjects, yet that rapidly turns to a level of direct intimacy measured in the revelations of the canvas.

I was particularly intrigued by her attention to the materiality of the figure-ground. Her sitter emerges from that often heavily patterned space, both fully human and as temporal as upholstery. In one of some 38 portraits, he is is holding a toy or they are wearing a patched pair of jeans. Rounded shoulders of a model seen from the back in a train car anoint an applique dress.

Yet that of course is not all (love is not all. Edna St. Vincent Millay), for there is also the directness of the gaze which in this case is the gaze of the sitter–direct, looking back at the painter and through the painter, of course, forward at us.  People are seen in their intimate domestic settings: two blue brothers from a family that Casteel told Westword magazine was “saturated with men.”

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