Chuck Close - Untitled, 1967-99 (detail)

Chuck Close /   Charles Thomas Close

United States 1940

Photography, Photorealism, Painting

Chuck Close
Charles Thomas Close
United States
November 16, 2016
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A major figure of the 20th and 21st-century painting, Chuck Close is an American artist known for his monumental portraits which are rendered with exquisite realism taken from photographic sources. His large-scale pieces are some of the greatest examples photorealism has to offer from its artistic arsenal. Playing with ideas of scale, color and form, Close has become additionally famous for his fabulous compositions which, although abstract up close, form unified and highly lifelike images when looked from afar. Besides this Impressionism-like practice, Chuck is also active in the field of photography. It should also be noted that Close suffers from an inability to recognize faces – an interesting fact that sheds new light on his painting method. Chuck also suffers from partial paralyzation, a result of a spinal injury that occurred in 1988.

Charles Close - Charles Close - Big Self-Portrait Robert , 1967–1968(Left) --- Cindy Nancy, 1968 (Right)
Charles Close – Charles Close – Big Self-Portrait, 1967–1968(Left) / Nancy, 1968 (Right)

Art as a Form of Escape

Chuck Close was born in the year of 1940 in Monroe, a city in Snohomish County of Washington. His father’s name was Leslie Durward Close and he died when his son was eleven years of age. As a consequence, Chuck was raised by his mother, Mildred Wagner Close. While he was still a toddler, Chuck suffered from a neuromuscular condition that made it difficult to lift his feet off the ground. Furthermore, he had a prolonged issue with nephritis that kept him out of school for most of the sixth grade. However, this was not the end of the problems for the small child – he also had dyslexia which was not diagnosed for most of his school days, heavily affecting his achievements as a student. As a mean of escape from such a troubling reality, young Chuck Close turned his attention to making art. Most of his early works are very large portraits based on photographs of family members and close friends. These pieces can be observed as announcers of his future work as Chuck Close never changed his subject – he only got a lot better with his technique.

Charles Close - Big Nude, 1967
Charles Close – Big Nude, 1967

Pursuing Painting Despite the Issues

As if his other issues were not enough, Chuck was diagnosed with prosopagnosia, an illness which is better known by its layman’s name of face blindness. Although this kind of disability would probably make most of us stay well clear from painting portraits, this was not the case with Close. Furthermore, the artist claims that it was this problem that inspired him to do portraits in the first place. Noticing that her son was at his happiest when he was painting, Mildred Wagner Close supported her son’s creative endeavors. She would take him to museums and art shows, all in order to make sure her son does not lose interest in painting. The artist recalled such a memory during an interview he did with The Brooklyn Rail. In it, Close stated the following: I went to the Seattle Art Museum with my mother for the first time when I was 14. I saw this Jackson Pollock drip painting with aluminum paint, tar, gravel and all that stuff. I was absolutely outraged, disturbed. It was so far removed from what I thought art was. However, within 2 or 3 days, I was dripping paint all over my old paintings. In a way, I’ve been chasing that experience ever since. Pursuing a career in painting, Close started attending classes at the Everett Community College in the year of 1958.

After exploring other themes during the 1970s, Chuck Close swiftly turned to photorealistic painting of portraits, suggesting it as a means for exploring unsettling aspects of self-identity

Charles Close - Joe Policy, 1969 (Left) --- Phil Privacy, 1969 (Right)
Charles Close – Joe, 1969 (Left) / Phil, 1969 (Right)

Chuck Close – The Rising Star

In the year of 1962, Close received his B.A. from the University of Washington in Seattle. He entered the graduate degree program at Yale University during the same year, an institution where he received his MFA in the year of 1964. After Yale, he studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna for a while on a Fulbright grant, enjoying Austria’s well-organized presentation of European art history. After he returned to the soil of the United States, Close worked as an art teacher, giving lectures on a regular basis at the University of Massachusetts. Close came to New York City in the year of 1967 and established himself as a worthy artist in SoHo, a neighborhood in Lower Manhattan which came to the public’s attention in recent history for being the location of many artists’ lofts and galleries. Here, Chuck expanded his contribution to portraiture by mastering varied drawing and painting techniques, such as ink, graphite, pastel, watercolor, conté crayon, finger painting and stamp-pad ink on paper. Furthermore, Close worked with printmaking, exploring such techniques as etching, woodcuts, linocuts and silkscreens. He also used to create paper collage artworks, Polaroid photographs, Daguerreotypes and Jacquard tapestries. Interestingly, Close’s early airbrush techniques directly inspired the development of the inkjet printer, a type of computer printing that recreates a digital image by propelling droplets of ink onto paper, plastic, or other substrates. Close’s method was surprisingly simple when put into words, but make no mistake as this is a complex process. Chuck would first put a grid on the photo as well as on the canvas, later continuing to slowly copy cell by cell to its finest detail. His later work branched into non-rectangular grids, topographic map style regions of similar colors and CMYK color grid pieces.

Shifting confidently from one media to the other, Close proves that his conceptual intentions are ultimately timeless, whereas his tools or materials are infinitely interchangeable

In 2013, the American portrait of Cindy Robert set the terms of what the museum visit is
Charles Close – Frank, 1969 (Left) / Richard, 1969 (Right)

Investigating Photography

In the year of 1967, Chuck Close made a choice to make art hard for himself and force an individualistic artistic breakthrough by completely abandoning the paintbrush, turning to other methods of creative expression. The painter explained such a radical decision with the following statement: I chose to do things I had no facility with. The choice not to do something is in a funny way more positive than the choice to do something. If you impose a limit to not do something you’ve done before, it will push you to where you’ve never gone before. Soon, Close started working with a gridded photograph, building his images by applying one careful stroke after another. This methodical way of building a composition resulted in huge pieces which were highly focused. As a reaction, the New York City accepted photography which became assimilated into the art scene thanks to the works of Chuck Close, as well as pieces made by artists such as Richard Estes, Denis Peterson and Audrey Flack. Such artworks also had a massive impact on the development of Photorealism which will soon be accepted as a valid style within art history.

Through his portraits, Chuck Close suggests that self-identity is always a composite and highly constructed

In 2016, a museum visit is the best place to view color artworks
Charles Close – Leslie – Watercolor, 1972-1973(Left) / Roy I, 1994 (Right)

The Event and Later Art

On the 7th of December in 1988, Close was at a ceremony praising local artists in New York City and was waiting the moment he would be called to the podium to present an award. However, he felt a strange pain in his chest. Chuck was able to deliver his speech but suffered a seizure which left him paralyzed from the neck down. As soon as he arrived in a hospital, the cause was diagnosed as a spinal artery collapse. Unfortunately, there was nothing the doctors could do at that point. Close called that day The Event. For the next following months, Chuck was in rehab strengthening his muscles with physical therapy. The therapy was partially successful as the painter regained slight movement in his arms and could walk for a bit. However, he was bound to a wheelchair ever since. Yet this terrifying event was not able to have a crucial impact on his art – Close continued to paint with a brush strapped to his wrist with tape, creating large portraits in low-resolution grid squares with the help of an assistant. This was the time Chuck abandoned his photorealistic ideals altogether, although this process was well underway before The Event. Since then, Close started to turn completely to semi-abstraction as he adopted the aforementioned technique in which the composition is abstract up close, but forms a highly lifelike image when looked from afar. Since his life was altered so much, Close’s art flourished, to say the least. He collaborated with many artists and made portrait pieces out of many of them, such as Kara Walker. His work continued to set standards and he is now well regarded as one of the most influential living artists in the United States of America. In 2000, Chuck Close was the recipient of the National Medal of Arts which was handed to him by the president himself. The artist also received the New York State Governor’s Art Award, the Skowhegan Arts Medal and over 20 honorary degrees including one from Yale University. In the year of 2010, Close was appointed by Barack Obama to the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities.

The photorealism of Close’s work implies that the whole is rarely more (or less) than the sum of its parts

In 2013, all American paintings became a policy of privacy terms set by Robert Cindy
Charles Close – Self-Portrait, Composite, Six parts, 1980 (Left) / Self-Portrait III, 2009 (Right)

The Greatness of Chuck Close

Although it is easily possible to connect Close with the ideas of Conceputal art, his greatest contributions to art history are without a doubt his photorealistic portraits. Never before had there been such realistic depictions placed on a canvas and combining that fact with knowing Close is not physically able to distinguish faces makes his work that much more impressive. Another occurrence concerning Chuck’s life and work makes us feel extremely lifted and inspired. The fact he has been able to stay undeterred after his severe injuries and the way he adapted his art to the limitations placed before him makes Close one of the most awe-inspiring chapters of modern art history. He is a living and breathing proof that there surely is no excuse nor obstacle if one sets his mind in the right direction.

This artist is represented by White Cube Bermondsey London, Gregg Shienbaum Fine Art Miami, Pace Galleries in London, Beijing, Menlo Park and Hong Kong, Me Collectors Room Berlin, Weng Contemporary, and White Cube Mason’s Yard London.

Chuck Close lives and works in New York City, United States.


  1. Lowry, G., Wye, D., Varnedoe, K., Storr, R., Close, C., Chuck Close, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2002
  2. Close, C., Chuck Close: Daguerreotypes, Alberico Cetti Serbelloni, 2001
  3. Rizzoli, Chuck Close, Rizzoli, 1987
  4. Grynsztejn, M., Engberg, S., Close, C., Chuck Close: Self-Portraits 1967-2005, Walker Art Center/San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 2005
  5. Close, C., Chuck Close: Face Book, Harry N. Abrams; Ltf edition, 2012
  6. Varnedoe, K., Close, C., Chuck Close: Recent paintings, Pace Wildenstein, 2002

Featured image: Chuck Close – Untitled, 1967-99 (detail). 29 67/100 × 22 in. 75.4 × 55.9 cm. Photo courtesy Kavi Gupta Gallery
Other images via
All images used for illustrative purposes only

YearExhibition TitleGallery/MuseumSolo/Group 
201720 YearsWeinstein Gallery, Minneapolis, MNGroup
2017Fotorealismus. 50 Jahre Hyperrealistische MalereiKarl-Ernst-Osthaus-Museum, HagenGroup
2016There Was A Whole Collection Made: Photography From Lester And Betty GuttmanSmart Museum of Art, Chicago, ILGroup
2016Chuck Close Prints: Process & Collaboration Schack Art Center, Everett, WASolo
2016Chuck Close - Fingerprint Paintings and Drawings, 1978-86 Craig F. Starr Gallery, New York City, NYSolo
2016Chuck Close Photographs NSU Art Museum, Fort Lauderdale, FLSolo
2015Chuck Close: Red Yellow BluePace Gallery - NY, New York City, NYSolo
2015Chuck Close PhotographsParrish Art Museum, Southampton, NYSolo
2014Chuck Close - Nudes 1967 – 2014The Pace Gallery - 534 West 25th Street, New York City, NYSolo
2014MultiplicityVirginia Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), Virginia Beach, VAGroup
2014If you’re accidentally not included, don’t worry about itGalerie Zürcher - New York, New York City, NYGroup
2014Slow 206HEspace de l’art concret, Mouans SartouxGroup
2014Photorealism RevistedMana Contemporary, Jersey City, NJGroup
2013Chuck Close - Works on PaperOklahoma City Museum of Art, Oklahoma City, OKSolo
2013Chuck Close Museum of Contemporary Art Sydney - MCA, Sydney, NSWSolo
2013Chuck Close: Radical InnovatorContessa Gallery, Cleveland, OHSolo
2013Chuck Close and His Turnaround Arts KidsHousatonic Museum of Art, Bridgeport, CTSolo
2013Chuck Close - TapestriesBlue Sky Gallery, Portland, ORSolo
2013Chuck CloseIKON Ltd, Santa Monica, CASolo
2013Chuck Close - Important Works On Paper From The Past Forty YearsJohn Berggruen Gallery, San Francisco, CASolo
2013Chuck Close Prints: Process and CollaborationWhite Cube - Bermondsey Street, LondonSolo
2013PhotorealismBirmingham Museum & Art Gallery, BirminghamGroup
2013Idle HandsTurner Carroll Gallery, Santa Fe, NMGroup
2013Eye to I... 3,000 Years of PortraitsKatonah Museum of Art, Katonah, NYGroup
2013Shaping A Modern Identity. Portraits From The Joseph And Charlotte Lichtenberg CollectionThe Phillips Collection, Washington, DCGroup
2013More Than A LikenessMcClain Gallery, Houston, TXGroup
2013Yes, No, MaybeThe National Gallery of Art, Washington, DCGroup
2013Sitting for History: Exploring Self-Identity through PortraitureTacoma Art Museum, Tacoma, WAGroup
2013Hyperreal - More than Pop! - SaarlandmuseumModerne Galerie & Studiogalerie, SaarbrückenGroup
2013Material WorldDenver Art Museum, Denver, COGroup
2013The Polaroid YearsThe Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, Poughkeepsie, NYGroup
2013A Couple Of Ways Of Doing SomethingFMoPA - Florida Museum of Photographic Arts, Tampa, FLGroup
2013VibrationsDes Moines Art Center, Des Moines, IAGroup
2012Chuck Close Galerie Thomas Modern, MunichSolo
2012Chuck Close: New WorkAdamson Gallery, Washington, DCSolo
2012Chuck Close Monterey Museum of Art, Monterey, CASolo
2012Chuck Close - Multiple PortraitsMuseum der Moderne - MdM Mönchsberg, SalzburgSolo
2012Chuck CloseThe Pace Gallery - 534 West 25th Street, New York City, NYSolo
2012Chuck CloseActual and Invented Realities Featured Prints - white8 showrooms, VillachSolo
2012Chuck Close and Crown Point Press: Prints and Processes The de Young Museum, San Francisco, CASolo
2012A Couple of Ways of Doing SomethingWichita Art Museum WAM, Wichita, KSSolo
2012Chuck Close - Prints Process and CollaborationKunsthal Rotterdam, RotterdamSolo
2012Master VisionsAnnandale Galleries, Annandale, NSWGroup
2012Under Pressure: Contemporary Prints from the Collections of Jordan D. Schnitzer and His Family FoundationJoslyn Art Museum, Omaha, NEGroup
2012MultiplicityArkansas Arts Center, Little Rock, ARGroup
2012Sound, Image, Object: The Intersection of Art and MusicSonoma University Art Gallery, Rohnert Park, CAGroup
2012On the GridWilliams College Museum of Art, Williamstown, MAGroup
2011Chuck CloseBlum & Poe, Los Angeles, CASolo
2011Self-portraits on PaperMichael Fuchs Galerie, BerlinSolo
2011Chuck Close  Galerie Haas & Fuchs - Berlin, Berlin (closed, 2011)Solo
2011Chuck Close: People Who Matter to MeTaubman Museum of Art, Roanoke, WVSolo
2010Drawings of the 1970s - Craig F Starr Gallery, New York City, NYSolo
2010Prints - Utopia Art SydneyWaterloo, NSWSolo
2010Chuck Close: People Who Matter to Me Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, VASolo
2010Chuck Close Prints: Process and Collaboration The Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DCSolo
2010Chuck Close - PolaroidsGalerie Xippas - Paris, ParisSolo
2010Chuck Close Prints: Process and CollaborationScottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art - SMoCA, Scottsdale, AZSolo
2010Look Close - Louis K.Meisel Gallery, New York City, NYSolo
2010A Couple of Ways of Doing SomethingBall State University Museum of Art, Muncie, INSolo
2009Chuck Close Prints: Process and CollaborationSan Jose Museum of Art, San Jose, CASolo
2009Chuck Close: Recent WorkContessa Gallery, Cleveland, OHSolo
2009Familiar Faces: Chuck Close in Ohio CollectionsAkron Art Museum, Akron, OHSolo
2009A Couple of Ways of Doing Something: Photographs by Chuck CloseThe Contemporary Austin, Austin, TXSolo
2009Chuck Close PrintsFrist Center for the Visual Arts, Nashville, TNSolo
2009Chuck Close. Maquettes and Multi-Part WorkPace / Macgill Gallery, New York City, NYSolo
2009Chuck Close: Selected Paintings and Tapestries 2005 - 2009The Pace Gallery - 534 West 25th Street, New York City, NYSolo
2009Chuck Close: Self-Portrait/Scribble/Etching Portfolio, 2000Brattleboro Museum and Art Center, Brattleboro, VTSolo
2009Chuck Close - PHOTOREALISMwhite8 gallery, ViennaSolo
2009Chuck Prints: Process and CollaborationSavina Museum of Contemporary Art, SeoulSolo
2009Chuck Close: Self Portrait/Scribble/Etching Portfolio, 2000  Colby College Museum of Art, Waterville, MESolo
2009Chuck CloseWilliam Shearburn Gallery, Saint Louis, MOSolo
2009A Couple of Ways of Doing Something Tacoma Art Museum, Tacoma, WASolo
2009Chuck Close: Seven PortraitsThe State Hermitage Museum, St. PetersburgSolo
2009Chuck CloseNicholas Metivier Gallery, Toronto, ONSolo
2007Chuck Close - Self Portrait 2007Pace Prints, New York City, NYSolo
2007Chuck Close: Family and OthersWhite Cube - Mason´s Yard, LondonSolo
2007Chuck Close PrintsPortland Art Museum, Portland, ORSolo
2007CHUCK CLOSE Recent editions Greg Kucera Gallery, Seattle, WASolo
2007Chuck Close - Self-Portrait/Scribble/Etching Portfolio, 2000 Picker Art Gallery at Colgate University, Hamilton, NYSolo
2007Chuck Close - Paintings 1968 - 2006Ludwig Forum für Internationale Kunst, AachenSolo
2007Chuck Close Prints: Process and Collaboration Boise Art Museum BAM, Boise, IDSolo
2007Chuck Close: Self-Portrait/Scribble/Etching Portfolio, 2000Mead Art Museum, Amherst, MASolo
2007Chuck CloseGalerie Xippas - Paris, ParisSolo
2007CHUCK CLOSE - Pinturas: 1968-2006Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, MadridSolo
2007Chuck Close Prints - Process and CollaborationOrange County Museum of Art, Newport BeachSolo
2007Chuck CloseTalley Dunn Gallery, Dallas, TXSolo
2006A Couple of Ways of Doing SomethingAperture Gallery, New York City, NYSolo
2006Chuck Close Prints: Process and CollaborationMMoCA - The Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, Madison, WISolo