A Sculptor Grows in Manhattan

Jordan Baker-Caldwell was an artist even before he knew the words to say it. The son of award winning Silversmith and Jewelry Designer, Sandy Baker, and accomplished Musician, Lawrence Caldwell — Jordan was immersed in the sea of the arts from the very beginning.

Jordan grew up in a home full of vibrant artwork; the walls and hallways were lined with sculptures and prints like “Tar Beach” by Faith Ringgold, “Quilting Time” by Romare Bearden, and “Sugar Shack” by Ernie Barnes, as well as wood cuts and paintings by his mother. Taking cues from all that was around him, the young artist began to form the lens through which he would see the world, and the ways in which to share that vision. From the age of 2, Jordan began to explore his home looking for bits and pieces to mix together, take apart and reconstruct. His mother knew immediately that she needed to find a way to focus her son’s boundless curiosity, which led her to purchasing him his first package of clay. Little did she know that that one simple act would send Jordan on a lifelong journey he continues on to this day.

First creating small unidentifiable mounds, Jordan began to explore the ways in which he could express his thoughts and feelings through clay. As he progressed, he began to create characters and scenes, often posing cultural and ethical questions, and dealing with spatial relationships. At the age of 8, Jordan began selling his sculptures at his school’s annual Holiday Bazaar, The Fall Festival. Jordan was the youngest person ever to have his own booth at the event. It was at this age that Jordan began to have an active interest in contemporary art, and, when the notion of becoming an artist truly solidified in his mind. He was immediately drawn to the work of artists like Keith Haring whose simple and comic inspired hieroglyphics were a big inspiration to the budding artist as he began to explore visual language and nonverbal communication. Jordan continued to show work at The Fall Festival for the next 8 years, later expanding to include painted t-shirts and hand crafted wooden brooms called “Art Brooms” — the handles of which he carved into intricate patterns and faces.

Jordan’s mother, a staunch supporter of the arts, and an avid art collector, showed Jordan, through example, the important role that art played in life, and that the simple act of creating is something to be appreciated and celebrated; a point she made sure her son knew at every opportunity.

Through adolescence Jordan painted and drew incessantly, never seen without a sketchbook at his side, yet he always felt strongly connected to sculpture in the way that it shared the same space as the people it encountered, and thus had the ability to engage with them in ways beyond that of the two dimensional. Taking cues from dancers like Gregory Hines, Martha Graham and Gene Kelly, motion became an important element in his work at this time, creating pieces that felt as if they were static glimpses into continued moments. He became enamored with artists like Roy Lichtenstein and Claes Oldenburg, whose bold colors and references to transcultural ideas could speak volumes in an irreverent unspoken language, drawing much of their meaning from a shared cultural consciousness. From the simplification of ideas that cartoons and comic imagery facilitated, to the fluidity of the movement of the body interpreted into solid form—Jordan saw an inherent universality that he wanted to bring together in his work.

Jordan continued his journey in the Arts at Alfred University where he received his BFA in 2005. It was there that he had his first gallery exhibitions. In 2010 Jordan curated the show “Urban Pulse” at RFA Gallery in Harlem. Working closely with the iconic Paula Coleman, longtime Art Director and Curator of African and African American Art, Jordan created a vibrant show, incorporating painting, metal sculpture and collage in a way that felt distinctly of the moment. The show incorporated his own work and served as a launching pad for featured artists Justin West and Dawn Okoro. In Jordan’s 2013 follow up solo show entitled “Rare Earth,” he continued in that spirit, featuring selections from his Rare Earth series, a collection of abstract and figurative metal works inspired by the people and energy of New York.

Jordan’s current works are a mixture of figurative, organic forms, juxtaposed against modern, neo-cubic abstraction, bringing together contemporary cultural references and classical ideals of form and balance. His work addresses relationships, both spatial and interpersonal, capturing movement and energy in a visual shorthand that creates space for an emotionally alchemic experience.

This past season has been an especially busy time for the artist. After over two years of planning and production, Jordan completed a project that entailed the permanent installation of his large scale metal sculpture “Ascension” in the heart of New York City. The 9-foot piece found its home on the corner of 36th Street and 9th Avenue this August, making Jordan the first African American to have a permanent metal sculpture in Midtown Manhattan.

Ascension is a large tubular form made of weathering steel that appears to be standing on its edge. The seemingly precarious way the piece rests challenges the viewers sense of spatial awareness, creating a quiet moment of contemplation amidst the hustle and bustle of the city. The permanent installation of Ascension marks the realization of a lifelong dream for the artist.

Ascension evokes questions about gravity, structure, balance, and the human body in relation to space, and how engaging with those elements has the power to reshape perception. The original idea for Ascension came from a dream Jordan had years before involving a form that seemed to represent a sense of both stillness and the passage of time. The installation was made possible through the support of the “Hudson Yards / Hell’s Kitchen Alliance.” Jordan worked closely with Director of Planning & Marketing, Amy Fitzgerald, and Executive Director, Robert Benfatto.

Continuing in that vein, this September Jordan’s 10-foot-tall metal sculpture “Golem” found a new home at the historic Harlem Hospital. The piece is on permanent loan, residing in the Mural Pavilion at the 136th street entrance of the Hospital. Golem is a large totem-like piece that resembles an abstracted face made of colorful scraps of metal. Affectionately called “The Neighborhood Protector,” Golem pays homage to the people and history of Harlem, while embodying its current spirit of growth. Golem’s patchwork look is representative of the different cultures and peoples of the neighborhood, some of whom donated scrap metal to the piece. The elements that make up the work include parts from New York Taxis, Chinese Food woks, trucks, and vans. Golem’s addition was made possible thanks to the efforts of Harlem Hospital’s Chief of Staff, Ms. Sylvia White and artist & Director of Art and Culture at Harlem Hospital, Mr. Ronald Draper, whose work can be seen lining the entrance to the Mural Pavilion and throughout the grounds. As part of Harlem Hospital’s irreverent Art Collection, Golem joins the likes of work by artists including Charles Alston, Alfred Crimi, Georgette Seabrooke, Elba Lightfoot and Vertis Hayes. In the new year Jordan has several projects in the works, so expect to see more form this artist very soon.