Chuck Close

big self portrait

Chuck Close (b. 1940) is an American painter and photographer who achieved fame as a photorealist, through his massive-scale portraits.

Though a catastrophic spinal artery collapse in 1988 left him severely paralyzed, he has continued to paint and produce work that remains sought after by museums and collectors. Ironically, while being one of the most successful portrait artists of his time, Close is also afflicted with prosopagnosia (face blindness), a condition that prevents him from recognizing people’s faces.

Close is wheelchair bound and paints with a brush strapped onto his wrist, creating large portraits in low-resolution grid squares created by an assistant. Although the paralysis restricted his ability to paint as meticulously as before, Close had, in a sense, placed artificial restrictions upon his hyperrealist approach well before the injury. That is, he adopted materials and techniques that did not lend themselves well to achieving a photorealistic effect. Small bits of irregular paper or inked fingerprints were used as media to achieve astoundingly realistic and interesting results. Close proved able to create his desired effects even with the most difficult of materials to control.

Most of his early works are very large portraits based on photographs (Photorealism or Hyperrealism technique) of family and friends, often other artists. Close had been known for his skillful brushwork. He made a choice in 1967 to make art hard for himself and force a personal artistic breakthrough by abandoning the paintbrush: ‘I threw away my tools,’ Close said. ‘I chose to do things I had no facility with. The choice not to do something is in a funny way more positive than the choice to do something. If you impose a limit to not do something you’ve done before, it will push you to where you’ve never gone before.’

Although his later paintings differ in method from his earlier canvases, the preliminary process remains the same. To create his grid work copies of photos, Close puts a grid on the photo and on the canvas and copies cell by cell. Typically, each square within the grid is filled with roughly executed regions of color (usually consisting of painted rings on a contrasting background) which give the cell a perceived ‘average’ hue which makes sense from a distance. His first tools for this included an airbrush, rags, razor blade, and an eraser mounted on a power drill.

His first picture with this method was Big Self Portrait, a black and white enlargement of his face to a 107.5 in by 83.5 in canvas, made in over four months in 1968. He made seven more black and white portraits during this period. He has been quoted as saying that he used such diluted paint in the airbrush that all eight of the paintings were made with a single tube of mars black acrylic.

Later work has branched into non-rectangular grids, topographic map style regions of similar colors, CMYK color grid work, and using larger grids to make the cell by cell nature of his work obvious even in small reproductions. The Big Self Portrait is so finely done that even a full page reproduction in an art book is still indistinguishable from a regular photograph.

Close has also continued to explore difficult photographic processes such as daguerreotype in collaboration with Jerry Spagnoli and sophisticated modular/cell-based forms such as tapestry. Close’s wall-size tapestry portraits, in which each image is composed of thousands of combinations of woven colored thread, depict subjects including Kate Moss, Cindy Sherman, Lorna Simpson, Philip Glass, and Close himself.

2 Comments to “Chuck Close”

  1. Way to plagarize without citing your “source”.

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