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b. 1989, United States

Jordan Casteel Biography

Painting intimate portraits of friends, family, or strangers in her Harlem community, Jordan Casteel has been heralded for her vibrant evocations of underrepresented subjects.

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Early Years

Born in Denver, Colorado, Casteel received her BA from Agnes Scott College, Decatur, before completing her MFA in Painting and Printmaking at Yale School of Art in 2014. On graduating, Casteel moved to New York for an artist residency at The Studio Museum of Harlem, before serving as an associate professor of painting at Rutgers University Newark from 2016 to 2021.

Portraits of Harlem

Casteel paints almost exclusively Black subjects she meets within her Harlem community. Presented in everyday environments, within domestic interiors, Harlem street corners, or on the subway, her intimate portraits seek to portray the bond between painter and sitter, while celebrating a community who have historically been underrepresented within art institutions.

Her portraits are pieced together from multiple photographs taken herself. Painted in vibrant hues of red, yellow, and pink, Casteel seeks to challenge the concept of 'Blackness' as a social construct in favour of expressing the humanity and individuality of each sitter.

Her noted series 'Visible Man' (2013–2014) portraying nude portraits of Black boys and men in domestic settings sought to redirect the stereotyping of Black men in the media, while aligning her practice with Kerry James Marshall and Henry Taylor's painterly representations of everyday settings.

The physical proximity and emotional intensity of Casteel's sitters, as seen in Shirley (Spa Boutique2Go) (2018), Jenna (2019), and Medinilla, Wanda and Annelise (2019), draw comparisons to the work of Alice Neel.

Vogue and Time Magazine

The cover of Time's May 2021 special issue, entitled Visions of Equity, featured Jordan Casteel's God Bless the Child (2019)—an oil on canvas work of a mother cradling her child, named by Casteel's mother after the Billie Holiday song.

Shortly after, Casteel was commissioned to paint a portrait of designer and activist Aurora James for Vogue's September issue.

In September 2021, Casteel was awarded the highly coveted MacArthur 'Genius Grant', an annual award granted by the Chicago-based MacArthur Foundation in recognition of the far-reaching influence of its 25 participants.

Returning the Gaze

In 2019, Casteel's first major museum exhibition, Jordan Casteel: Returning the Gaze, travelled from the Denver Art Museum to the Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts, Stanford. Featuring nearly 30 larger-than-life portraits, the exhibition showcased Casteel's anthropological pursuit to capture family members, friends, and strangers on canvas, as seen in Joe and Mozel (2017), Q (2017), and Benyam (2018).

In 2020, Casteel was the subject of her first solo show in New York, entitled Within Reach, at the New Museum.


Jordan Casteel's solo exhibitions include The Baayfalls, High Line Art, New York (2019); The Practice of Freedom, Casey Kaplan, New York (2019); Nights in Harlem, Casey Kaplan, New York (2017); Jordan Casteel: Harlem Notes, Harvey B. Gantt Center, Charlotte (2017); Brothers, Sargent's Daughters, New York (2015); Visible Man, Sargent's Daughters, New York (2014); The Gaze, The Study, Aisling Gallery, New Haven (2014), among others.

Jordan Casteel's group exhibitions include Rituals of Resilience, Minneapolis Institute of Art (2021); Bodywork: Discomfort and Existence, Massimo De Carlo, Milan (2021); Knowledge of the Past Is the Key to the Future, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (2021); Every Day: Selections from the Collection, Baltimore Museum of Art (2019); Harlem: In Situ, Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover (2019); One Day at a Time: Manny Farber and Termite Art, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (2018); and Man Alive, Jablonka Maruani Mercier Gallery, Brussels (2017), among others.

Website and Instagram

Jordan Casteel's website can be found here, and her Instagram can be found here.

Annabel Downes | Ocula | 2021

Jordan Casteel

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