MovementsArtistsTimelinesIdeasBlog
About us
Artists Chuck Close
Chuck Close Photo

Chuck Close

American Painter and Photographer

Movement: Photorealism

Born: July 5, 1940 - Monroe, Washington

Chuck Close Timeline

Quotes

"I realized that to deal with your nature is also to construct a series of limitations which just don't allow you to behave the way you most naturally want to behave. So, I found it incredibly liberating to work for a long time on something even though I'm impatient. It did not seem like such a dichotomy or a denial of who I was. It seemed like I was taking care of who I was."
Chuck Close
"Photography is the easiest medium with which to be merely competent. Almost anybody can be competent. It's the hardest medium in which to have some sort of personal vision and to have a signature style."
Chuck Close
"I think I was driven to paint portraits to commit images of friends and family to memory. I have face blindness, and once a face is flattened out, I can remember it better."
Chuck Close
"Always the best time to paint is when people decide that painting is dead because the traditions and conventions are up for grabs."
Chuck Close
"I always thought that inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work. You sign onto a process and see where it takes you."
Chuck Close
"What difference does it make whether you're looking at a photograph or looking at a still life in front of you? You still have to look."
Chuck Close
"You don't have to reinvent the wheel every day. Today you will do what you did yesterday, and tomorrow you will do what you did today. Eventually you will get somewhere."
Chuck Close
"A photograph doesn't gain weight or lose weight, or change from being happy to being sad. It's frozen. You can use it, then recycle it."
Chuck Close
"Ease is the enemy of the artist. When things get too easy, you're in trouble."
Chuck Close
"A face is a road map of someone's life. Without any need to amplify that or draw attention to it, there's a great deal that's communicated about who this person is and what their life experiences have been."
Chuck Close

"I'm pre-pixel. They got it from me."

Chuck Close Signature

Synopsis

Chuck Close is globally renowned for reinvigorating the art of portrait painting from the late 1960s to the present day, an era when photography had been challenging painting's former dominance in this area, and succeeding in steadily gaining critical appreciation as an artistic medium in its own right. Close emerged from the 1970s painting movement of Photorealism, also known as Super-Realism, but then moved well beyond its initially hyper-attentive rendering of a given subject to explore how methodical, system-driven portrait painting based on photography's underlying processes (over its superficial visual appearances) could suggest a wide range of artistic and philosophical concepts. In addition, Close's personal struggles with dyslexia and subsequently, partial paralysis, have suggested real-life parallels to his professional discipline, as though his methodical and yet also quite intuitive methods of painting are inseparable from his own daily reckoning with the body's own vulnerable, material condition.

Key Ideas

Photorealist painting of the 1970s celebrated the glossy, mirror-like "look" of the photograph, but after achieving that ideal, Close swiftly turned to portraiture, suggesting it as a means for exploring unsettling aspects of how self identity is always a composite and highly constructed, if not ultimately conflicted fiction.
Close's dependence on the grid as a metaphor for his analytical processes, which suggest that the "whole" is rarely more (or less) than the sum of its parts, is a conceptual equivalent for the camera's analytical, serial approach to any given subject. Every street-smart, colorful Polaroid is as much a time-based and fragmentary gesture as any more laborious stroke of the painter's brush in the cloistered studio.
Close has worked with oil and acrylic painting, photography, mezzotint printing, and various additional media. Shifting confidently from one to the other, Close suggests that his conceptual intentions are ultimately timeless, whereas his tools or materials are infinitely interchangeable. This is partly why Close's practice of portrait painting has for over forty years remained surprisingly "contemporary," even while the larger movement of Photorealism, his earliest chosen stylistic idiom, has long receded into history.
Close's slow, accumulative processes, which enlist numerous abstract color applications in the service of producing "realistic," or illusory portraits, most recently finds application in the art of modern tapestry via a highly illusionistic, computer-aided method of industrial weaving that Close favors for its ability to suggest the hyper-real appearance of nineteenth century glass photographs(daguerreotypes).

Most Important Art

Chuck Close Famous Art

Big Self-Portrait (1967-68)

The tentative air of experimentation that might be said to characterize Big Nude is nowhere apparent in Big Self-Portrait, a watershed painting that virtually showcases Close's unique method. Abandoning the full-body view, Close turned to one of the oldest traditions anywhere in art history, the self-portrait. Close had partially set out to refute the critic Clement Greenberg's claim that it was impossible for an "advanced" artist to work in portraiture. Closes's untraditional approach involved conceiving of and creating a unique kind of "mug shot," a black-and-white idiom that exacerbated the subject's blemishes and the original photographic distortion caused by the camera. The devotion to the idea of an unsparing, head-on view led him to refuse all commissions, as Close used only his own "mug" and that of close friends for his subjects.
Read More ...

Chuck Close Artworks in Focus:

Biography

Childhood

Charles Thomas Close was born at home to Leslie and Mildred Close, a couple with a leaning toward artistic pursuits. Leslie Close was a jack-of-all-trades with a flair for craftsmanship, he built Charles his first easel. His mother was a trained pianist but unable to pursue a musical career due to financial restraints. Determined to provide her son with opportunities she herself never enjoyed, Mildred pushed Charles to take up a myriad of extracurricular activities during his school years and hired a local tutor to give him private art lessons.

Charles had a difficult time with academics due to dyslexia, although teachers were often impressed with his creative approach to projects. He was also diagnosed at a young age with facial blindness and a neuromuscular condition that prevented him from engaging in athletics, making the social aspects of school life difficult. Once in college, and upon deciding to make a career in art, he excelled.

Early Training

Close received a scholarship to attend the Yale Summer School of Music and Art after his junior year at the University of Washington in Seattle, which facilitated his subsequent acceptance to the Yale MFA program in 1962. The challenging environment at Yale put him in competition with a host of talented peers, such as Nancy Graves, Brice Marden and Robert Mangold. Jack Tworkov, the new director of the MFA program, supported the teaching of contemporary art movements (e.g. Pop art and Minimalism) in addition to the standard focus on Abstract Expressionism; the revised curriculum indeed proved to be a major influence on Close's later work. While at Yale, Close served as a studio assistant to printmaker Gabor Petardi. In his senior year, Close won a Fulbright scholarship, providing him with the opportunity to study art in Europe.

In 1965, after completing his travels abroad, Close began teaching classes at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. Deciding that his own Abstract Expressionist style of painting had grown stagnant, he began to experiment with alternative forms and materials. One of his more ambitious ideas of the time involved painting a large nude from a series of photographs, but he set the project aside due to unresolved problems with color and texture. In January 1967, the college held a solo exhibition of other Pop-inspired works by Close, sparking an outrage from the administration due to his use of full-frontal nude male images. The American Civil Liberties Union defended Close in the resulting lawsuit, brought on by the university president, John Lederle. Ultimately, the ruling was in favor of the university, a decision that effectively ended his time in Amherst.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Chuck Close Biography Continues

Taking a new teaching job at the School of Visual Arts in New York City that fall, Close moved to Manhattan, where he reunited with Leslie Rose, a former student. The two subsequently married that December. Close's search for a signature style was a persistent frustration to him, and with Rose's support, he continued to experiment with different styles drawn from contemporary art. In particular, Process art was highly popular at the moment, due to the rising fame of Sol LeWitt and others. Returning to the large photographic-based nude he had begun in Amherst, Close decided to approach the problem from a methodical angle. Working again from photographs, he parsed the image into a grid, which he then transferred onto a nine-foot-long canvas. Painstakingly hand-copying the photograph's gridded segments onto each corresponding cube of the canvas, Close built a larger-than-life, black and white copy of the female nude's image. The resulting Big Nude (1967), reads as both an abstract and a figurative painting. In addition, depending on the viewing distance, the painting reads as a traditional figure drawing, or as an abstract landscape of a close up, yet barely recognizable subject.

Mature Period

Chuck Close Biography

Close's career gained momentum from the sale of a similarly conceived Big Self-Portrait (1967-68) to the Walker Art Museum in 1969, which prompted other sales shortly thereafter. Motivated by the newly-developed method of painting, he sought to refine his technique in his first "Heads" series. Also in black and white, these paintings emphasized their photographic roots. Close used the large-scale format to exaggerate the more unflattering interpretations of the camera, creating close-up views that he describes as mug shots. In December 1969, the Whitney Museum of American Art acquired a Close portrait of composer Philip Glass, and the museum also included one of the artist's works in the Whitney Annual. Earlier in the year, Close had joined Bykert Gallery, where he participated in his first New York City group exhibition with Lynda Benglis, David Paul, and Richard van Buren. Prior to the opening of the show, writer Cindy Nemser conducted an interview with Close for the January 1970 issue of Artforum magazine, which accidentally published his name as "Chuck Close." The artist subsequently adopted it as a professional moniker from that time to the present.

Searching for a way to reintroduce color to his work, Close returned to photography for inspiration. Imitating the photographic dye-transfer process, Close developed a method that utilized separate layers of cyan, magenta and yellow. Painted on top of each other, the colors compel the eye of the observer to mix them in order to arrive at a realistic, full-color image. The first portrait executed by this method was Kent (1970-71), which took Close almost a full year to complete. He spent the next several years working on three-color-process portraits, during which his first child, Georgia, was born.

In the summer of 1972, Parasol Press invited Close to produce a series of prints by any method he desired. Intrigued, Close chose the mezzotint, a virtually abandoned printmaking technique common to 18th century portrait reproductions. Reproducing an already gridded photograph of Keith Hollingworth, the print unintentionally revealed the schematic checkerboard pattern. These unexpected results led to a Close repeated use of the same photographs for paintings executed via different techniques and in various media. Some of the more unorthodox methods he employed included fingerprinting, the use of pulp paper, and resourcing instant Polaroid, "snapshot" photographs.

Later Years

Chuck Close Photo

Close's current method of painting originated with his pastel portraits of 1981. These portraits are derived by Closes's juxtaposing of different colors within each cube of the grid, a process critic Christopher Finch has colorfully referred to as a "pimiento-stuffed olive." The loose handling of color and richness of the pastels resulted in a lush, tactile surface, which Close maintains in his more recent work. Through more complex combinations of color and mark-making, Close's style of portraiture has also grown closer to abstraction, which makes its integrity to certain aspects of the photographic medium all the more notable.

In December 1988, Close suffered from intense chest pains that led to complete paralysis below the neck, a watershed moment in his life that the artist refers to as "the Event." With the dedication of his wife, who insisted that his physical therapy focus on the act of painting, Close was able to regain enough movement and control in his upper body to allow him to continue working. Steadily strengthening his arms, he completed Alex II (1989) during his rehabilitation period. The painting is much smaller than Close's previous works (Alex II is only 36 x 30 inches), and it conveys a sadness that the artist describes as representative of his conflicted mindset at the time. It exhibits, however, no loss of technique. Close has since built a studio to accommodate his wheelchair and a two-storey, remote-control easel, where he continues to dynamically develop his artistic processes with the help of studio assistants. Now, in his early 70s, and continuing to evolve in his artistic practices, Close has been applying his methods to the production of highly illusionistic imagery in the format of portraits of his friends, colleagues, and others.

Utilizing the modern computer-aided methods of tapestry, Close is now able to approximate, in woven images, the mirror-like illusionism characteristic of the 19th century photographic glass daguerreotype. As if coming full circle, Close may be said to have reinvigorated the genre of Photorealism just when everyone had assumed it had been relegated to history.


Legacy

Chuck Close Portrait

Coming of age at a moment when Abstract Expressionism was still a major force in the art world and, for some, a rather inhibiting one, Close suggested that a return to a former category of painting, or realistic portraiture, could be a viable route for an artist's development. Close married this premise to his early fascination for photographic realism, focusing on the sequential and time-based process of transferring a photographic image to canvas as the conceptual premise for suggesting the construction of self identity, or the "persona," as a highly tentative undertaking, indeed despite its apparently seamless outcome. This conceptual foundation of Close's work has been his essential legacy to his many admirers and successors. The genre of portraiture itself, as well as the gridded, sequential conceptual artwork, have since the 1970s taken a very active role in avant-garde circles. The mix of the photographic sequence and its painterly reconstruction is seen early on, for instance, in the late 1970s work of Jennifer Bartlett, and it resurfaces time and again in the work of more portrait-based photographers of the 1980s, such as Cindy Sherman, Annie Leibovitz, Cass Bird, Nan Goldin, Kiki Smith, Andres Serrano, and Robert Mapplethorpe.

Influences and Connections

Influences on artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Influenced by artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Chuck Close
Interactive chart with Chuck Close's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
View Influences Chart

Artists

Jackson PollockJackson Pollock
Sol LeWittSol LeWitt
Willem de KooningWillem de Kooning

Friends

Philip GlassPhilip Glass
Alex KatzAlex Katz

Movements

Pop ArtPop Art
Conceptual ArtConceptual Art
Chuck Close
Chuck Close
Years Worked: 1965-present

Artists

Ross BlecknerRoss Bleckner

Friends

Philip GlassPhilip Glass
Christopher FinchChristopher Finch

Movements

PhotorealismPhotorealism

If you see an error or typo, please:
tell us
Cite this page

Content compiled and written by The Art Story Contributors

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by The Art Story Contributors
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
Available from:
[Accessed ]



By submitting the above you agree to The Art Story privacy policy.

Useful Resources on Chuck Close

Books

Websites

Articles

Audio

Videos

More

The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing of this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.

biography

Chuck Close: Life Recomended resource

By Christopher Finch

artwork

Chuck Close: Work Recomended resource

By Christopher Finch

The Portraits Speak: Chuck Close in Conversation with 27 of His Subjects

By Chuck Close, Dave Hickey, William Bartman, Joanne Kesten

More Interesting Books about Chuck Close
Chuck Close: Process and Collaboration

Chuck Close: Photo Gallery

Washington Post's overview of Chuck Close and good visual insights into his techniques

Pixels and Painting: Chuck Close and the Fragmented Image

By James Ravin and Peter Odell
Ophthalmology
August 2008

Chuck Close Recomended resource

By Phong Bui
Brooklyn Rail
June 2008

Following the Light, and Making Faces Recomended resource

By Helen A. Harrison
New York Times
February 22, 2004

The Persistence of the Portraitist

By Deborah Solomon
New York Times
February 1, 1998

Did we succeed in explaining the art to you?
If Yes, please tell others about us: