‘With Access Comes Responsibility’: Watch Painter Jordan Casteel Transform Snapshots Into Indelible Portraits of Her Community

As part of a collaboration with Art21, hear news-making artists describe their inspirations in their own words.

Production still from the Art21
Production still from the Art21 "Jordan Casteel Stays in the Moment" film, "New York Close Up." © Art21, Inc. 2017.

The millennial art star Jordan Casteel is having her first New York solo museum show at the tender age of 31. Opening this week at the New Museum, the show will include some 40 paintings, many from her series “Nights in Harlem,” which depict African American men in the same Harlem community where Casteel lives.

There are very few spaces where black men are being represented outside of criminality and entertainment,” Casteel says in an exclusive interview with Art21. And so she paints the men she sees as they go about their daily lives: walking their dogs, buying groceries, sitting on the steps outside an apartment building. Her large-scale portraits are based on photographs, and Casteel notes that while it only takes a second to snap the picture, when it comes to painting their likenesses, “I sit in here literally for hours alone, in my own head,” she says, “re-engaging with what I felt from someone in an instant.” 

Production still from the Art21 "Jordan Casteel Stays in the Moment" film, "New York Close Up." © Art21, Inc. 2017.

Production still from the Art21 “Jordan Casteel Stays in the Moment” film, “New York Close Up.” © Art21, Inc. 2017.

In the video, filmed in 2017, when Casteel’s career was just taking flight, she already has a sense of the enormity of what she’s achieved in such a short time. “I have somehow found a way to weasel myself into a one-percent opportunity within the art market that has proven, on so many levels, that room for me is few and far between, as a young African American woman in a space that is primarily run by older white men.” 

Now, three years later, Casteel’s subjects have expanded to include her own students at Rutgers, where she is an assistant professor, but her commitment to representing individuals in her community remains intact. “With access comes responsibility,” she says. “With visibility comes responsibility.”

Watch the video, which originally appeared as part of Art21’s New York Close Up series, below. “Jordan Casteel: Within Reach” is on view from February 19–May 24, 2020 at the New Museum. 

This is an installment of “Art on Video,” a collaboration between artnet News and Art21 that brings you clips of newsmaking artists. A new series of the nonprofit Art21’s flagship series Art in the Twenty-First Century is available now on PBS. Catch all episodes of other series like New York Close Up and Extended Play and learn about the organization’s educational programs at Art21.org.


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