Jordan Casteel at New Museum (Feb. 2020)

Harlem-based painter Jordan Casteel shared the marquee of a dual solo, two simultaneous one-artist painter shows that opened at the New Museum last month. The Denver-born and Yale MFA artist had a solo exhibit last year 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 a setting in which her sitter emerges, both fully human and yet as temporal as upholstery. He is holding a toy that reveals a generational divide, they are wearing a patched pair of jeans or an appliqued dress that shows the model’s back, seated in a New York train car. Yet that of course is not all, for there is also the directness of the gaze which in this case is the gaze of the sitter–as unflinching as an Alice Neel subject. Less insouciant or perhaps provocative as a Kehinde Wiley. Yet decidedly as painterly virtuosic in Casteel’s methodologies of attention and discretion to depictions that are angular, often slightly atilt in modest yet discernable ways. Her series of black male nudes refuses the overt object-making; instead the limb-torso-arm relationship asks to be noticed. The way the figure is always looking as the painter makes her, Jordan Casteel, the gaze-back at which the proverbial buck stops. She is both the interlocutor and the executor of the image she is presenting in the form of portraiture. People are seen in their intimate domestic settings: two blue brothers, a family that Casteel told Westword magazine was “saturated with men.”

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