Jordan Casteel - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Thursday, May 16, 2019 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner

  • Catalogue Essay

    Executed at the onset of her promising career, Self Portrait, 2012 comes to auction concurrent with Jordan Casteel’s first major institutional show at the Denver Art Museum. The artist has contributed to the redefinition of contemporary portraiture taking place by a school of artists reinvigorating figurative painting in the 21st century including Kerry James Marshall, Nicole Eisenman and others. Embodying the vibrant, tactile and painterly aesthetic that her portraits have become known for, the present work depicts herself staring directly at the viewer, inhabiting an intimate composition, which offers a glimpse into the early stages of her practice, and more uniquely, her own persona.

    In Self Portrait, Casteel sits casually in a white t-shirt, wearing a necklace with a butterfly pendant and square-framed glasses. She looks ahead at us with raised eyebrows, surrounded by collaged sketches and letters written by her students from her time as a special education teacher in Denver prior to attending the Yale School of Art. The notes provide an intimate look at Casteel’s previous life before beginning her career as an artist, some containing colorful block letters spelling out “CASTEEL”, identifying the sitter. She is seated with an IV in her left arm, a reference to her daily routine spent managing lupus, the autoimmune disease she was diagnosed with during her first year of college. Throughout her development as an artist, Casteel acknowledges the profound effect that the disease has had, making her someone, as she describes, who “really desires authenticity, because everything else feels so fleeting” (Jordan Casteel, quoted in Julia Felsenthal, “Jordan Casteel is Making You Look”, Vogue, February 27, 2018, online). By alluding to an aspect of her own private life, Self Portrait uniquely encompasses the authentic nature of her practice, perhaps even more so than her recent portraits of fellow New Yorkers painted over the past five years.

    In the present work, the artist utilized a varied color palette, mixing warm yellows with fiery reds, juxtaposed with cooler violets found within the shadows, all layered on top of each other in heavy impasto. For each of her portraits, Casteel begins with a single activating color, which she then builds an entire palette around. She explains, “I consider myself a painter in the most technical way. I spend probably the majority of my time thinking about the nuance of color and composition” (Jordan Casteel, quoted in Julia Felsenthal, “Jordan Casteel is Making You Look”, Vogue, February 27, 2018, online). While recognizably dark, Casteel’s skin tone in Self Portrait is not composed of a single black hue. “I'm interested in pushing the dialogue of blackness. Within my own family, the scope of what blackness looks like is really vast…you literally have a whole scope and range of literal color, and representing that in my paintings is important to me. I just allow myself to play, as it relates to each painting individually” (Jordan Casteel, quoted in Jason Parham, “This Artist Wants You To See The Fullness Of Black Men’s Lives”, The Fader, August 10, 2016, online).

    Born and raised in Denver, Casteel received a Masters of Fine Arts in painting from Yale in 2014. After graduation, Casteel moved to New York and was quickly catapulted to fame a year later when she was offered the renowned artist’s residency at the Studio Museum in Harlem. It was here that she shifted her focus to people she encountered in her new neighborhood, mostly men. Beginning with nude figures in domestic interiors and later depicting them in their outdoor, urban surroundings, Casteel’s sitters are at once specific and representative of a broader human experience. Working from photos that she stages herself, she often surrounds her subjects with their own ephemera to create a personal narrative. After amassing over 100 photos, she then returns to her studio and begins rendering her subjects in vibrant swathes of paint that have little basis in reality.

    By painting black subjects from her everyday life, Casteel re-contextualizes traditional portraiture of the past, which so often favored white subjects. In so doing she belongs to a specific lineage of black artists like Marshall and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, both of whom are also focusing on previously underrepresented sitters. On these artists’ collective efforts, Dushko Petrovich explains, “there is an institutional urgency to speak to a more diverse audience with painting…to attract the various people who had been excluded from the museum by remaking the history of figurative painting, this time with color” (Dushko Petrovich, “The New Face of Portrait Painting”, The New York Times Style Magazine, February 12, 2018, online). Marshall does this by referencing the rewriting of art history, while Yiadom-Boakye imagines her ethereal subjects entirely. In contrast, Casteel paints people found within her day-to-day surroundings, bearing an equal resemblance to portraitists such as Alice Neel, and even 19th century masters like Édouard Manet.

    Of the timeless nature of her work, she explains, “I have to trust that the paintings’ integrity will allow them to hold space wherever they go and encourage conversation and thoughtfulness that might not have been there otherwise. I won’t always be there to speak on the painting’s behalf—its success lies in its ability to speak for itself” (Jordan Casteel, quoted in “Jordan Casteel: In Conversation with Nicole Kaack”, NYAQ, Issue 6, November-February 2016/2017, p. 14).


Self Portrait

signed "CASTEEL" lower right
oil and paper collage (with ink, graphite and colored pencil) on canvas
55 7/8 x 43 7/8 in. (141.9 x 111.4 cm.)
Executed in 2012.

$60,000 - 80,000 

Sold for $237,500

Contact Specialist
Amanda Lo Iacono
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+1 212 940 1278

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 16 May | On View at 432 and 450 Park Avenue