"The intent of the paintings is to expose my vision of black men as a sister, daughter, friend and lover. That perspective is one full of empathy and love. I see their humanity and, in turn, I want the audience to engage with them as fathers, sons, brothers, cousins – as individuals with their own unique stories to share." – Jordan Casteel
Drawing on a long line of art historical portraiture, Jordan Casteel’s Jonathan is a vibrant and masterful example from the artist’s most celebrated male nude series. Casteel challenges traditional perspective by painting Jonathan from below, and by dividing the space into blocks of shifting bright colors. Casteel attempts to capture the essence of her sitter completely, by placing him in a comfortable domestic setting, and revealing clues of the context and of the sitter’s identity throughout the painting. Casteel also made her sitter gaze directly into her eyes while she painted him in order to reveal the emotional connection she felt between them. As a result, the viewer is confronted by Jonathan’s unprotected gaze.
Jonathan is surrounded by objects of domesticity: a brightly lit lamp, an end table, a patterned couch and a mirror. A slightly opened book by the 17th century French playwright Jean Racine placed on the end table reveals a personal glimpse into the sitter’s interests and identity. The mirror to the right of the figure reveals a window enveloped in darkness, setting the scene in the nighttime. The winding colorful tapestry of prints on the couch echoes the tapestry of colors Casteel deliberately weaves together to delineate the figure’s skin. By composing Jonathan’s skin with strokes of blue, green and red, Casteel is challenging the tradition of monochrome African American portraiture and highlighting the complexity and layers of black individuality. The fluid thickness of Casteel’s strokes and her love of color is apparent in Jonathan, which recalls the bright colors and thick lines of Jacob Lawrence, and the patterned beauty of Matisse.