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  • Overview

    '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 CasteelIn Quinn, an unblinking man looks at the viewer with a restful gaze. He wears a green camouflaged hat from which hangs a thick blue string, the tip of which casually hangs down his chest. Behind him, a stack of books rises against a red brick wall, hinting at his proclivities within a domestic space. The man is known through the painting’s title as Quinn, yet nothing other than the few elements that surround him — the brick wall, the books — further elucidate his identity. This is typical of Jordan Casteel’s paintings, whose subjects are most often portrayed in environments where they are most comfortable — introduced to the viewer in the energy of a moment, which itself was captured in a single click. ‘My perspective is one full of empathy and love’, Casteel has said.1 In Quinn, the artist’s generous, empathic rendering of the portrayed man allows for a moment of intimacy between the viewer and the sitter. Casteel further explained: ‘home tends to be where we are our most vulnerable and intimate selves. The domestic space directly correlates with comfort and, as a result, it feels significant to have each of my subjects surrounded by their own personal […] environment.’2

     

    Intuitive Perspectives

     

    Executed just a year after Casteel had graduated from her MFA in painting and printmaking at Yale University in 2014, Quinn displays the artist’s unique sensibility for portraiture, carried out with idiosyncratically luminous yet somewhat jagged strokes. Beginning with nude figures in domestic interiors and later depicting subjects in exterior environments, Casteel’s sitters are people that surround her in emotional or physical proximity — neighbours, friends, family, students or chance encounters. First working from unstaged photographs in her sitters’ natural spaces, Casteel subsequently examines the shots in her studio (which can range ‘anywhere between 100 and 200 photos’), eventually picking one, to which she sometimes incorporates ‘aspects of various photos […] to create a painting that I feel best depicts that person/environment, and has the strongest composition’.3 By virtue of their unstaged nature, the resulting portraits and environments emanate sentiments both casual and authentic, spontaneous and considered.

    'It’s really easy to rest in a conversation of “Jordan paints Black men,” when my interest in environment and paint and color and subject matter in relation to those things means more to me, and are things that I’m really trying to discover on a greater level.' —Jordan CasteelBy painting subjects from her everyday life, Casteel re-contextualises a realm of canonical portraiture which so often favoured white subjects throughout history. In doing so, she inscribes herself in a specific lineage of artists like Kerry James Marshall and Henry Taylor, who have similarly introduced a glimpse of their own everyday lives and reality in the age-old medium of painting, establishing themselves as contrasting voices to a painterly legacy of almost-exclusively white representation. ‘'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’, Casteel said. ‘I just allow myself to play, as it relates to each painting individually’.

     

    Alice Neel, Jackie Curtis as a Boy, 1972, oil on canvas, Private Collection. Image: Bridgeman Images. ©Estate of Alice Neel, Collection of John Cheim, Courtesy Cheim & Read, New York.
    Alice Neel, Jackie Curtis as a Boy, 1972, oil on canvas, Private Collection. Image: Bridgeman Images. ©Estate of Alice Neel, Collection of John Cheim, Courtesy Cheim & Read, New York.

    When speaking of portraiture specifically, Casteel has admitted her penchant for Alice Neel’s ‘freshness and sense of imperfection’. ‘I found myself totally in awe that there was somebody who had made work in a way that I was trying to make work myself’, Casteel said — her own vulnerability resonating deeply with Neel’s expressionistic and emotionally intense portraits.5 Of the timeless nature of her work, Casteel further mused, ‘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’.6

     

    Enjoying increased success in both critical and commercial spheres, Casteel was recently the subject of a thorough solo exhibition at the New Museum from February 2020 to March 2021, bringing together nearly forty paintings spanning her career, including works from her series Visible Man (2013–14) and Nights in Harlem (2017), alongside recent portraits of her students at Rutgers University. Though the show was physically shuttered during most of its duration, a digital walk-through on YouTube provides an opportunity for viewers to look at Casteel’s work in context, at their own unmediated pace.

     

    1 Jordan Casteel, quoted in Allie Biswas, ‘Jordan Casteel: “My perspective is one full of empathy and love”’, Studio International, 21 October 2015, online.
    2 Jordan Casteel, quoted in Allie Biswas, ‘Jordan Casteel: “My perspective is one full of empathy and love”’, Studio International, 21 October 2015, online.
    3 Jordan Casteel, quoted in Allie Biswas, ‘Jordan Casteel: “My perspective is one full of empathy and love”’, Studio International, 21 October 2015, online.
    4 Jordan Casteel, quoted in Jason Parham, ‘This Artist Wants You To See The Fullness Of Black Men’s Lives’, The Fader, 10 August 2016, online.
    5 Jordan Casteel, quoted in Antwaun Sargent, ‘Why an Alice Neel Painting Is Stuck in This Artist’s Psyche’, The New York Times, 28 May 2019, online.
    6 Jordan Casteel, quoted in ‘Jordan Casteel: In Conversation with Nicole Kaack’, NYAQ, Issue 6, November-February 2016/2017, p. 14.

    • Provenance

      Sargent's Daughters, New York
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

7

Quinn

signed and dated '2015 Jordan Casteel' on the reverse
oil on canvas
106.7 x 91.4 cm (42 x 35 7/8 in.)
Painted in 2015.

Full Cataloguing

Estimate
£150,000 - 200,000 

Sold for £233,100

Contact Specialist

 

Rosanna Widén
Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale

+ 44 20 7318 4060
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Olivia Thornton
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+ 44 20 7318 4099
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20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 15 April 2021