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Gallery

Jordan Casteel’s series of black men brings attention to the unique humanity of each individual.

Jordan Casteel was born in 1989 in Denver, Colo. Casteel received her MFA in 2014 from Yale in New Haven, Conn. She currently lives and works in Brooklyn, NY.

“Visible Man” is on view at Sargent’s Daughters through Sept. 14, 2014.

All images used with permission, copyright © the artist, all rights reserved.

The Morning News:

Who are these men?

Jordan Casteel:

As an artist, I have been exploring for some time how painting could tell the story of black men I have known throughout my life. The black men in this body of work are representative of the power, vulnerability, and humanity of my family, friends, and community. Sadly, currently it seems even more important to share this narrative.

TMN:

Are you following events in Ferguson? What do you find most shocking?

JC:

Yes, I am following the events in Ferguson because it’s my community. I am frustrated with the historic systemic oppression of black men. What is tragic is that it isn’t shocking. My goal is to redirect the public’s gaze away from the perception of black men as predatory or hyper-sexualized and to make more visible their resiliency, strength, and humanity.

TMN:

Your men don’t seem nude so much as just fully themselves. To put clothes on them would subtract somehow.

JC:

I chose to paint the subjects nude in order to fully capture their humanity. By painting them without clothing, we are left with the bare body. As a result, there is no hiding from the desire for visibility from each individual.

TMN:

When is portraiture at its most false?

JC:

For me, portraiture is at its most false when the artist imposes too much of themselves. Portraiture is about building relationships with each subject to understand them and ultimately work towards a meaningful interpretation.

TMN:

You’re originally from Denver. How much of your point of view as an artist comes from Colorado?

JC:

To be honest, my view as an artist comes less from Colorado, and more from a family dedicated to giving voice to the voiceless.

TMN:

What does that mean?

JC:

My family, through civil rights organizations, education, and philanthropy have been dedicated to social justice for multiple generations.

TMN:

What was the first piece of artwork you ever sold?

JC:

The first painting I sold was after I spent time painting in Cortona, Italy. I had completed a small study of a Michelangelo painting and I was beside myself with joy to find out someone was willing to pay me for it.

TMN:

Debussy reportedly said, “How much has to be explored and discarded before reaching the naked flesh of feeling.”

JC:

My process has entailed producing a lot of work. Lots of which has been put away. It is through producing and letting go that the genuine feelings I am trying to elicit from my work come to life. Similarly, the process of picking and choosing carries over into the choices I make to create each portrait.

Rosecrans Baldwin co-founded The Morning News. He is the author of Paris, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down and You Lost Me There. His next novel is forthcoming from Farrar, Straus and Giroux. His Kindle e-book for The Morning News Editions, about visiting different American towns called Paris, was selected as a notable essay for Best American Essays 2013. More information can be found at his website. More by Rosecrans Baldwin