Important Art by Chuck Close
"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.
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.
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.