Collections> Browse Chuck Close

Collections> Browse Chuck Close

Chuck Close
Holdings (18)
2 paintings, 12 edition prints/proofs, 1 book, 1 photograph, 2

Wikipedia About Chuck Close

Charles Thomas “Chuck” Close (born July 5, 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. Full Wikipedia Article

essay Chuck Close, Walker Art Center Collections, 2005

Celebrated as one of the most influential figurative painters of our time, Chuck Close has remained a vital presence by focusing exclusively on portraiture, a genre often underrecognized in contemporary art. Since the 1960s, Close has used his inimitable style of representational painting to portray friends, family, fellow artists, and himself. In all of the media in which he works, whether painting, drawing, photography, collage, or printmaking, he begins with the photograph as his subject. By choosing, as he often remarks, to consistently “alter the variables” in the way he transposes his photographic sources, he has created a remarkable pictorial language that continues to become richer and to expand through time.

By 1967, Close had completed graduate work at Yale University, moved to New York City, and abandoned the abstract work of his school years to begin painting from photographs. “I wanted something very specific to do where there were rights and wrongs,” he has remarked, “and so I decided to just use whatever happened in the photograph … By limiting myself to black paint on white canvas, I would have to make decisions early and live with them.”1 At the same time, he sought to eliminate any brushes or tools with which he was comfortable working: “I was constructing a series of self-imposed limitations that would guarantee that I could no longer make what I had been making and push me somewhere else.”2

His first attempt was an enormous painting of a reclining female nude, from which he honed some of the decisions about where to go next, such as using an airbrush, a tool with which he was unfamiliar. Making this work led Close to paint his first self-portrait.3 “The day that I photographed myself I was actually photographing the nude, which I had just completed; I had film left over and I shot myself. There wasn’t anyone to look through the viewfinder, so I focused on the wall and got the distance from the lens to the wall that was in focus. I cut a little cardboard strip, and then I moved the camera back out into the middle of the room and I would put the strip of cardboard between the lens and me so I knew that I would be in focus. I didn’t realize I was tilting so much in all these photographs. And I didn’t realize that I was going to get so much out of focus. Then I realized the minute I started to make the painting that it was far more interesting because there was a range of focus. The tip of the nose blurred and the ears and everything else went out of focus, so I began to engineer that… . I also didn’t realize, until I made the painting, how crucial it was to shoot from below so that the painting looms over you.”4

Big Self-Portrait (1967–1968) was a watershed image for Close, in that it established his basic working method, which he has continued to use in various permutations to this day. Using a technique employed by both Renaissance painters and modern-day billboard artists, he overlaid a grid on his source photograph and, over the course of four months, transposed his subject square by square to the new 9-by-7-foot canvas.5 The finished painting was arresting. The artist’s rumpled, mug-shotlike visage indeed loomed from the canvas, cigarette dangling from his lips. Close recalls that the process of making this painting was extremely liberating, as his rigorous process of working only from information available in the photograph forced him to make marks and forms that were entirely new to him.6 He went on to paint a related group of eight black-and-white “heads,” as he refers to them, which included portraits of fellow artists Nancy Graves, Richard Serra, and Frank Stella and composer Philip Glass. In the years that followed, he reintroduced color into his work, began to fully explore his formula in drawings and prints, and embraced Polaroid photography as another means of building an image.

Continuing the modus operandi that allowed him “to find things in the rectangle and slowly sneak up on what I want … to make it all happen in the rectangle instead of on the palette and in context,”7 Close began to explore new means of creating his images—ranging from “dot” drawings to collages of pressed and dyed paper pulp to paintings and drawings made with his own fingerprints—that began to shake up the smooth surface sheen and photographic veracity of his earlier work. By the mid-1980s, he had embraced a brilliant color palette. His grids began to be more apparent, and he had introduced marks into his system that were self-contained, allowing each square to emerge as a miniature abstraction in itself.

Beginning in 1988, Close faced new personal and artistic challenges after suffering a collapsed spinal artery that initially left him paralyzed from the neck down. Through his remarkable courage and tenacity, his condition improved, and though dependent on a wheelchair, he was able to begin painting again with a customized brace. The paintings made following this event resumed the train of thought begun with his dot drawings, but became looser and more gestural than ever before. In canvases such as Kiki (1993), the candy-colored pinks and greens, delicate lavender, acid yellow, and other unexpected combinations reveal Close as a highly intuitive colorist. The blocks of color in the painting amass across the canvas as watery pixels—resolutely abstract at close range and joltingly real as the whole is absorbed and the artificial hues begin to reveal flesh, hair, and features.

Close’s work continues to evolve in surprising ways. Incorporating new techniques, from nineteenth-century daguerreotypes to twenty-first-century computer-generated Iris prints, he has remained committed to rigorous experimentation within his rigidly defined practice. Through more than thirty-five years of “isms” and art movements, Close has operated on his own continuum, one that never fails to propel his work to new places.

  1. Close, interview with the author and Madeleine Grynsztejn (Elise S. Haas Senior Curator of Painting and Sculpture, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art), artist’s studio, New York City, September 30, 2003 (transcript of audiotape, Walker Art Center Archives).

  2. Ibid.

  3. The Walker purchased Big Self-Portrait out of Close’s studio in 1969; the $1,300 sale was the artist’s first to a museum. The Walker has continued to add to its holdings of Close’s work by assembling a collection of self-portrait prints that span his career. Executed in techniques ranging from etching and linoleum block to woodcuts and handmade constructions of dyed paper pulp, the self-portrait prints form a fascinating microcosm of the artist’s work overall.

  4. Close, interview with the author and Grynsztejn, 2003.

  5. The size of the canvas was determined by the proportions of the source photograph. For a detailed discussion of Close’s working process in making the painting, see Lisa Lyons, “Changing Faces: A Close Chronology,” in Martin Friedman and Lisa Lyons, Close Portraits, exh. cat. (Minneapolis: Walker Art Center, 1980), 30–33.

  6. Lyons, “Changing Faces,” 33.

  7. Close, interview with the author and Grynsztejn, 2003.

Engberg, Siri. “Chuck Close.” In Bits & Pieces Put Together to Present a Semblance of a Whole: Walker Art Center Collections, edited by Joan Rothfuss and Elizabeth Carpenter. Minneapolis, MN: Walker Art Center, 2005.

© 2005 Walker Art Center


artist’s quote artist’s quote , 1970

I am not trying to make facsimiles of photographs. Neither am I interested in the icon of the head as a total image. I don’t want the viewer to see the whole head at once and assume that that’s the most important aspect of my painting. I am not making Pop personality posters like the ones they sell in the Village. That’s why I choose to do portraits of my friends – individuals that most people will not recognize. I don’t want the viewer to recognize the head of Castro and think he has understood my work.–Chuck Close, 1970