Chuck Close

By: Patrick Cates
July 5, 2010

Unruly hair tangles around his ears and floats wispily on the top of his head. Chest hairs sprout up and threaten to meet the stubble on his unshaven neck. A pair of dark, semi-conscious eyes, one closer to sleep than the other, suggest ennui and even a dash of insouciance. Long before I knew his name, I would have been able to pick CHUCK CLOSE (born 1940) out from a crowd, so iconic is his breakthrough work of hyperrealistic and unflattering self-portraiture. Since he painted his first major “head” in 1967, Close has specialized in making life very difficult for himself as an artist. He takes a photograph, breaks it up into a grid of tiny squares and then renders each square meticulously in oils on a much larger scale. The process takes months; the results are breathtaking to contemplate. Close trained at a time when angry men were spewing their suffering abstractly onto canvasses. But he soon decided that you needed to have a well of angst to draw from if you were to paint like Pollock and friends. Which he didn’t. So he situated himself at the other end of the representational continuum and, rather than express pain with paint, invited pain by painting. “Painting for me is like putting rocks in your shoes before you go out on a journey,” he once told an interviewer. But did some modern-day Minerva look down upon Close and decide that his life as an artist was still too easy? Possibly. In 1988, he suffered a spinal artery collapse that paralyzed him permanently from the shoulders down. And yet still he wears the masochistic mantle. Getting what minimal movement he can out of his arms, he turns out mesmeric portraits and gives Minerva the figurative finger.

ALSO BORN THIS DATE: RZA.

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What do you think?

  1. I love Chuck Close’s work, especially his self portraits. I worked in an office where a more recent self-portrait hung. It must have been eight feet tall and six feet wide. Every time I passed by, it arrested me.
    Helen Ellis

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