The people in artist Jordan Casteel's towering paintings look at you passively, kindly. They gaze forward as they lean over bar counters and relax in folding chairs set on stretches of New York City sidewalk.
Casteel's subjects are her family and friends, but also her neighbors, and even strangers. And their attention-grabbing gazes have earned her some buzz.
The Denver-born painter is a rising star in the contemporary art world. This weekend marks a major homecoming for her as the Denver Art Museum prepares to open her first solo museum show, "Jordan Casteel: Returning the Gaze." The museum has already bought two of the 30 paintings in the exhibition for its permanent collection.
Casteel uses vivid colors to capture her subjects in their own environments: a family-run Ethiopian restaurant, a Denver barbershop, a Harlem street corner.
"I think Jordan's ability for capturing the temperament of her subjects is a nuance that is rare," said Veronica Levitt of the Casey Kaplan Gallery, which represents Casteel.
Denver Art Museum curator of modern and contemporary art Rebecca Hart is drawn to Casteel's subjects' eyes.
"Each sitter looks out at the viewer and does that in a way that, it's almost as if they're asking a question or demanding your attention. And I don't see that in very many other portrait painters that are working right now," Hart said.
"Jordan Casteel: Returning the Gaze" opens Saturday, Feb. 2 and runs through Aug. 18, 2019. Casteel talked to Colorado Matters about her family, how she came to be an artist and her relationships with her subjects.
"I am literally coming home to an institution that I used to occupy as a child and never foresaw … that somebody would think that my name would be worthwhile to put up with the works I was making. It’s so abstract as a young person, and even as an older person, to think about how it is that you get your work on the walls of a museum. A museum itself seems to be a place of culture keeping, an accolade teller, and the value-giver of what it is that you’re looking at … it’s just something I never thought I could do nor did I know how to do it."