Jordan Casteel's vibrant, larger-than-life portraits of everyday people earned her a 2021 MacArthur Foundation Fellowship.
Jordan Casteel has spent much of her young career painting vivid, near life-sized portraits of Black people—the street vendors, subway riders and residents of Harlem, where Casteel currently resides—the ordinary, everyday citizens who are rarely seen on museum walls. "A lot of the subjects that I have chosen maybe have had moments where they haven't felt seen. Knowing that they get to feel seen long-term, that's one of the greatest honors of my life," she said. For the Rutgers University art professor, advocating for the marginalized and unseen is a family tradition; her grandmother, Margaret Buckner Young, was a noted educator and children's book author; her grandfather, Whitney Moore Young Jr., was president of the Urban League in the '60s (Casteel is named after Vernon Jordan, a close family friend who led the Urban League after her grandfather.) The trajectory of her career has been meteoric: Three months after graduating from Yale School of Art, Casteel had her breakout moment with her first solo exhibit, "Visible Man"—a nod to Ralph Ellison's "Invisible Man"—at a New York City gallery in 2014. The exhibit featured Black men in the nude, casually posed in intimate settings, offering a powerful counter-narrative to the violent and hypersexualized versions of Black men in the media. That show caught the eye of Thelma Golden, legendary director of Studio Museum in Harlem, who offered Casteel one of the museum's highly coveted residencies. Several solo shows followed, culminating in her first major museum show in New York City, "Jordan Casteel: Within Reach," featuring nearly 40 paintings spanning her career that opened in February 2020 just before the pandemic shut everything down (a virtual tour featuring Casteel as a guide was a saving grace). In the past year, her work has appeared on the covers of Vogue and Time magazines, and in September, Casteel was named a 2021 MacArthur Fellow for "capturing everyday encounters with people and places in works that invite recognition of our shared humanity."