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Details
Jordan Casteel (b. 1989)
Ato
signed twice and dated 'Jordan Casteel 2014 Jordan Casteel' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
72 x 54 in. (182.9 x 137.2 cm.)
Painted in 2014.
Provenance
Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner
Literature
J. Parham, "This Artist Wants You To See The Fullness Of Black Men’s Lives", The Fader, 10 August 2016 (illustrated).
R. M. Rinaldi, "A homecoming, a debut and a revelation for Jordan Casteel at Denver Art Museum", The Know, Denver Post, 24 February 2019.
Z. Lescaze, "Jordan Casteel Won’t Let You Look Away", The New York Times, 14 February 2020 (illustrated).
Exhibited
North Adams, Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, The Half-Life of Love, May 2017-March 2018.
Denver Art Musem and Stanford University, Cantor Arts Center, Jordan Casteel: Returning the Gaze, February 2019-February 2020.

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Emily Kaplan
Emily Kaplan

Lot Essay

“I’ve always been an observer, I’ve always been the person in a room who is watching things before I decide to step into it… I’m able to kind of resolve my interactions with people, or the things that I want to understand about humanity that I might not get otherwise, so there’s an intimacy in the process of making, where it’s literally just me and my thoughts and my paint and my discovery and then I’m coming out of it with this product that gets to live a whole other life.”
– Jordan Casteel

Spanning almost ten feet in height, Jordan Casteel’s Ato stands as a vibrantly intimate portrait of the artist’s most celebrated practice. With skillfull meticulousness and glowing lucidness, Casteel expends powerful and intimate attention on a bare man, an orange chair, all in what appears to be the subject’s living room, catching the shadows of his limbs, faces, the folds of the chair, and the potency of his gaze. Infusing the intimate scene are violet walls, a window overlooking a cloudy day and buildings nearby, and a small side stand with a framed picture of a figure placed on the right side of the chair. The bold coloration of Ato’s skin with glimmering shades of golden browns bestows an angelic glow. Executed in 2014, and included in Casteel’s first solo museum exhibition, Returning the Gaze at the Denver Art Museum and the Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts at Stanford University in 2019, the work is emblematic of her highly celebrated and distinguished portraits of Black men. Ato showcases the progressively refined application of Casteel’s technique, which in this particular instance, was created the year she received her Master in Fine Arts in painting and printmaking from Yale University. Customarily altering the color of the subject’s skin, in this particular case, to a vibrant palette of caramel and sepia tones, the artist seeks to deconstruct the identity of her male subjects by instead championing their most intimate qualities. On her process, Casteel explains that “I came back with the intention: I’m going to paint black men as I see and know them. As my twin brother, as my older brother, as people that I love. I wanted to find a way to get other people to see them in their humanity.” Ato serves as a shining testimony to Casteel’s technical prowess. Depicted in her keen perspective, the present work stands as an exquisite example of the artist’s oeuvre.
In discussing her key influences, Jordan Casteel mentions “As a child, I grew up with the knowledge of Hale Woodruff, Romare Bearden, William H Johnson, Jacob Lawrence and Faith Ringold… It wasn’t until much later in life that people such as Matisse and Alice Neel entered my spectrum of knowledge. Lynette Yiadom-Boakye is another whose work I greatly admire for her lovely attention to paint and sensitivity to black bodies’ (J. Casteel, quoted in A. Biswas, ‘Jordan Casteel: “My Perspective is one full of empathy and love”, Studio International, 21 October 2015). Ato perfectly encapsulates the opulent and bodily visual language for which Casteel has been received significant recognition. Her brushwork is both rich and intuitive and the deep coloration of oranges, auburns and bronze demonstrate her masterful use of depth and dimension. In Ato, Casteel captures an intimate moment of solitude in which the viewer locks eyes with the subject. Fascinated by capturing the pervasive stare, Casteel explains that “I am really intentional about the gaze, maintaining the sense of power and strength. I’m often thinking about the ways that these will function outside of my studio, and how they’ll live a life on their own in spaces where I can’t necessarily speak for them. But that their presence is made known in some ways.” Casteel impressively captures the essence of the figure by placing him in a domestic and personal setting. In several of these male nude series, Casteel imperatively paints the subject’s gaze to meet her own to bring forward the emotional connection she felt between executing this work. Superbly shown in Ato, Casteel brings forward the true exhilaration of her work which is found in the subject’s gaze and the artist’s renowned painterly technique of rich color and polished attention to detail.

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