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Jordan Casteel will not let you search far

When artist Jordan Castel reached the campus as a college student, her mother walked her into the dining hall – not to eat, but to greet the kitchen crew. Her mother explained that they met the president and the dean, but these were the people who really took care of her.

Mrs. Castel remembers being shy, but her mother was right: the first person she approached, a baker named Betty, became a surrogate parent. “She cooked me meals on Sunday, brought me birthday cakes,” said Ms. Castiel. After about a decade, they still talk on the phone. And she said, “There really is something magical that can happen when you risk this.”

This particular alchemy, the kind that begins with a nervous welcome and the conversion of strangers into a family, lies at the heart of Mrs. Castel’s practice. Close to 31, it has attracted widespread acclaim for the immense portraits of friends and neighbors, and works celebrated due to affection and intense social and technical comments. Its first institutional exhibition in New York – an exhibition of about 40 paintings spanning seven years – It opens in the new museum on February 19.

“What we see when we look at one of Jordan’s images is her ability to represent her subjects completely,” said Tilma Golden, director of the Museum of Studios in Harlem, where Ms. Castiel completed her residency in 2016. Able to capture the feeling of the soul, the sense of self, and the spirit of the soul. “

Mrs. Castel, who exclusively depicts colorful people, is eager to magnify her community who may not see themselves on the walls of art museums. In the latest series, she filmed her undergraduates at Rutgers University, Newark, where she works as a professor of art, as well as street vendors and business owners in Harlem, where she lives with her partner, photographer David Schulz.

Currently looming above the high line, on West 22nd Street, a one-person display on the wall: Falu Wadge, a Senegalese-born designer, sold her hand-painted tools outside the studio museum at the time of Ms. Castile’s residence. Of all the people working inside the building, Ms. Wadje said it was the artist who always stopped and talked to her. The two became friends, and in 2017, Mrs. Castel painted “And Baayfalls, ‘Image of Mrs. Wadje with fellow member of Baye Fall, the Sufi Muslim arrangement on which the piece is named. When High Line Art invited Mrs. Casteel to present one of her works as a 1,400-square-foot wall, she chose without hesitation.

And she said, “Having a migrant story stands out prominently at this time in this world, in New York City – it’s just a good feeling.” The painting, the first general technical committee, will last until December.

“It’s crazy,” she said, watching a video of herself crying when she saw the mural. “When she goes there, her energy is very strong.” Mrs. Wadje, who is currently writing a book on spirituality, later showed her on another painting called “Fallou” and is now owned by music producer Swizz Beatz. She said exposure may help her achieve her own projects. It is a tool, she said. “I will use it.”

Massimiliano Gioni, curator of the new museum, who organized Mrs. Castel’s show, said he hoped viewers would get a fresh perspective on contemporary life in New York. He said that what surprised Mrs. Castiel’s approach to celebrating professions that were “marginalized very quickly is because we think of them according to some stereotypes.” As Mrs. Castiel once explained, “We tend to think of a man working on a laptop computer in a cafe as a businessman.” But no, he said, “Someone who sells shirts or statues on the street.”

Mrs. Castel is the most comfortable when she is alone in her studio, but a friend and bold neighbor, rushing to eliminate jokes and bursting rotten laughter spells. She was found this afternoon in Binyam, an Ethiopian restaurant near her apartment in Harlem, in black pants, high-heeled sneakers and a loose jacket hanging around her long frame.

When Mrs. Castel entered, Helena Jerma, the chef and owner at the restaurant, rushed her hands warm. Mrs. Castiel is ordinary here; a copy of “Benyam”, photographed for 2018 of Mrs. Jerma, her two brothers and business associates, is hanging next to the bar. “There is a difference between living here and being and with the people who live here and caring for people more than just a surface level,” she said.

She said her interest in the lives of others stems from her upbringing in Denver, where her mother, Lauren Young Castell, runs a charity. (She is also part of Mrs. Castiel’s legacy: her grandfather was Civil Rights Activist Whitney Moore Young Jr.) “Empathy was something that really excited me to think about,” said Ms. Castiel. “What does going out from one person to another mean and understanding common causes, or even differences, that may exist?”

At home, Mrs. Castel grew up with prints and posters of opponents by colorful artists, but the museums she visited rarely told stories related to her family’s history. “I did not see them in institutions or feel that they are valued in these institutions,” she said.

She was somewhat surprised by Ms. Castel’s artistic career. She studied anthropology and sociology at Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Georgia, until she enrolled in a drawing class during a semester in Italy. She found herself happy in a “never before” way and switched the big companies. After a short period of teaching in private education in Denver, she joined the M.F.A. Program at Yale University.

It was a rocky transition. While most of her classmates went to art schools as a college student, she arrived in New Haven with three paint brushes and had no idea how to stretch a canvas. “I think we are all confused by my presence,” she said, laughing. “Antichrist syndrome was very real.”

Mrs. Castel found a sense of direction in the summer of 2013, when George Zimmerman was acquitted of the murder of Trafun Martin. She returns to Yale University as she considers how portraits might be used to counter the images of black men as victims or violent criminals.

She said, “I went back in brown: I will draw black men as I see them and know them.” “As my twin brother, as my older brother, as people I love. I wanted to find a way to make other people see them in their humanity.”

Mrs. Castel started drawing her subjects with full clothes, but soon found that the famous street slogans were hindering the breaths she was hoping to catch. “People were not reaching the part of the human vulnerability that I really wanted them to reach,” she said. Half kidding, a friend suggested that she only get rid of clothes. Mrs. Castel refused: “Historically black men were evil and sexually insane – their bodies were not respected.”

But the artist has found ways to sabotage these awards. She drew her subjects in their homes or other intimate places, and threw them out until her genitals were obscured. Mrs. Castel also chose to portray men on a scale that is impossible to ignore. (The idea that a collector who buys one of these works likes to rearrange the furniture “to make room for this giant black body.”) Every man makes direct contact with the model with the model.

The author said: “Sitting with us is a shame which means we can be ourselves without expecting anything on us.” Jerry Bryon Holder, the first participant in the series, who has since become a close friend of Mrs. Castel. “Jordan made us this special. I really cared about the details of our inner life as well as our shape. At that time, we didn’t really have many opportunities to be other than black adult men.”

Finally, Mrs. Castel painted some of her models in suspended traffic shades of Lavender, Blue, and Ice Green, forcing the viewer to confront “black” as a concept and as a builder.

When the photos first appeared in New York in 2014, at the Downtown Gallery Sargent girlsIn a show called “Visible Man”, they caught the attention of critics and heavyweights of importance in the art world. Cecilia Yamani, curator of the High Line Art Museum, said she immediately started visualizing works on a public scale. Mrs. Golden exhibited Mrs. Castel’s stay at the Studio Museum after watching the exhibition

In the past decade, Museums and the market are increasingly embraced by Afro-Portrait painters, and Mrs. Castel often discusses in cooperation with other black artists, including Amy Sherald, Kerry James Marshall, Kennedy Wiley and Barclay Hendricks, who died in 2017. Very distinct, however, These associations strike some experts as artificial.

“It looks like he says that just because a group of people all speak the same language, they all say the same things or all belong to the same proportions of thinking,” says James Haywood Rolling, art professor. Education at Syracuse University.

Others feel that it is important to collectively study modern works in this context. As Richard Powell, professor of art history at Duke University and author of “Black Art: A Cultural History” said: “For me, it would be an intellectual breach of trust to say,” We are here in 2020 “and we do not say,” We have this whole group of artists who have invested In drawing the black figure. “

He added, “It is recognized that all of them are very different, yet they all see this black number as a launch pad and a starting point.”

If there is something that unites these painters, Mr. Rolling said, it is “an invitation and response to the lack of sticky characters in the law of the painting.” Or he added “the crushing presence of whites.”

For some of the sit-ins from Ms. Castel, the opportunity to face institutional neglect is a reason to participate. “I knew I wanted to take this opportunity to place my mom and I in the historical canon of art,” said Emmanuel Amuacohen, one of Ms. Castiel’s students, who stood with his mother in 2019. “Canvas makes me feel interested.”

So far, Ms. Castel said: “So far, asking strangers to be defeated is scary.” But the links I created through her work make each introduction easier: “I remember the fact that there’s always something more ahead of me if I take this opportunity.”

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