Chuck Close

Chuck Close

American Painter and Photographer

Born: July 5, 1940 - Monroe, Washington
"I'm pre-pixel. They got it from me."
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"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."
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"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."
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"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."
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"Always the best time to paint is when people decide that painting is dead because the traditions and conventions are up for grabs."
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"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."
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"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."
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"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."
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"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."
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"Ease is the enemy of the artist. When things get too easy, you're in trouble."
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"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."
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Summary of Chuck Close

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.


  • 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 19th century glass photographs(daguerreotypes).

Biography of Chuck Close

Chuck Close, self-portrait (2016). Ceramic tile at the 86th's Street Subway Station in New York City

Describing how, "I discovered about 150 dots is the minimum number of dots to make a specific recognizable person," Chuck Close pioneered Photorealism. "By putting little marks together," he said his monumental portraits conveyed how, "a face is a road map of someone's life."

Important Art by Chuck Close

Big Nude (1967)

"Big Nude" is the first painting completed in Close's signature grid process, and both its size and self-conscious title indicate its ambitious nature. Although the transferred image "reads" as a flat transcription of light and dark characteristic of a photograph, the painting's variegated brushstrokes reveal Big Nude to be more of a prototype for future development than a fully resolved picture. Poised precariously between a common studio exercise in figure drawing and a 1960s girlie magazine shoot, "Big Nude" also challenges the future of representational painting at a moment in history when the genre would seem to have long ago exhausted its potential for future development. Only the antiseptic whiteness of the canvas hints at a new approach to the figure that might perfectly marry an instant, unforgiving photographic record of a subject with the artist's reconsideration of its every component over months of studied, methodical transcription.

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.

Kent (1970)

For Kent, Close made use of preparatory drawings for the first time to explore the three-color process, an imitation, or re-employment, of the photographic dye-transfer method. By adopting a mechanical procedure and mimicking it physically, or by hand crafting what is normally carried out by the camera, Close suggests that illusion is ultimately in the eye of the beholder, whose own optical apparatus finally "completes" the picture. Although Close literally painted the same image three times, one atop the other in separate colors, he was surprised when the work ended up taking three times as long to complete. In order to facilitate the process, Close wore cellophane filters over his eyeglasses in order to view marks in one color at a time.

Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Chuck Close
Influenced by Artist
Friends & Personal Connections
  • Ross Bleckner
    Ross Bleckner
Friends & Personal Connections
  • Philip Glass
    Philip Glass
  • Christopher Finch
    Christopher Finch
Movements & Ideas
Open Influences
Close Influences

Useful Resources on Chuck Close

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Content compiled and written by The Art Story Contributors

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

"Chuck Close Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. .
Content compiled and written by The Art Story Contributors
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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First published on 01 Aug 2011. Updated and modified regularly
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