Perceiving it as the means for exploration of the construction and invention of self-identity, the artist has produced an oeuvre of extraordinary complexity with this seemingly straightforward subject matter.
Chuck Close portrait paintings are based on the underlying processes of photography and are a product of the methodical and system-driven approach that suggested various artistic and philosophical concepts.
Painting friends and fellow artists based on their photographs, Close aimed to investigate the process of art itself. He experimented with various medium, scale, pallete and techniques within the schematic format of the grid.
Transferring a photographic source square by square to the canvas, he deconstructs the nature of perception while showing a great flexibility through this strict methodology. For him, the dependence on the grid served as a metaphor for his analytical processes that perceived a whole as a sum of its parts.
Struggling with dyslexia and partial paralysis, his professional work and analytical methods became inseparable from the condition of his body. Over the years, his works evolved from harsh black-and-white images to colourful patterned pieces that bordered with the abstract.
His systematic approach could also be compared with the one of minimal and process artists. Despite the continuous shift between media, materials and tools, his conceptual intentions are timeless.
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Editors’ Tip: Chuck Close: Work
This lavish, large-format volume deals with all aspects of Close’s career and places them in a biographical context. Christopher Finch’s insight into Close’s achievement comes by way of hundreds of studio visits and thousands of hours of conversation since he met Close in 1968. The author provides an engaging, in-depth analysis of Close’s portraits on canvas, from the continuous-tone airbrushed heads of the 1960s and 1970s to the painterly "prismatic grids" of the past decades. Featuring 365 illustrations, the book surveys almost all of Close’s paintings, including his most recent work, together with a selection of prints and multiples and examples of his photographic oeuvre.
During the 1980s, Close started using the wet pulp paper material and adopted it to the canvas. The image was transferred to the canvas by pencil grid, with each unit keyed to one of approximately 20 tones of black, grey and white.
The painting Georgia from 1985, a portrait of the artist’s daughter, was one of the largest works in this group. It was created in monumental scale of 8 x 6 feet. He created it while lying on his stomach on a rolling scaffolding above the painting that was placed on the floor.
This painting was sold at Sotheby’s New York in 1997 for $390,000.
In the late 1970, Close started working on a series that employed pastels in a wide spectrum of hues. Reminiscent of mosaics, the pastels in Leslie from 1985 present the appearance of thousand particles of colour.
The piece was sold at Sotheby’s New York in 2007 for $565,000.
Close frequently portrayed fellow artists as his subject. The painting Paul II is a portray of Paul Cadmus, an American social realist best known for his figurative paintings.
This piece is a great example of his late style where he created individual abstract squares filled with ovals and circles that form a whole once viewed from a distance.
The painting was sold at Sotheby’s New York in 2009 for $602,500.
The portrait Mark is another portrait from the pastels series. Working with pastels gave Close great freedom and he also enjoyed the physicality he found in them.
This piece also resembles mosaics. The painter Mark portrayed in the portrait is Close’s friend and he said afterward "I always wondered how (Close) picked his subjects and I always wanted him to paint me".
The painting was sold at Christie’s New York in 2014 for $1,145,000.
Cindy II is a masterpiece of Close’s late portrait style. It is part of the series made up of artists who use self-portraiture in their work.
Despite always posing in some fictional guise in her work, Sherman is here depicted free of all artifice and looking casual and natural. As some critics noted, Sherman has chosen this appearance purposefully and constructed it just like any other persona from her work.
Since his late works are characterized by the division of the painting surface into a large grid, large brushstrokes and the vivid color palette, this piece is a superb example of this late artist’s style.
It was sold at Christie’s New York in 2003 for $1,463,500.
Close created several self-portraits based on the same photograph of him. The black-and-white Self-portrait from 2007 resembles a mosaic and each of the cells in the work’s visible structure is composed of an abstract shape such as oblong, circle or square.
It is difficult to make up the face at close range, but from a distance, the different cells come together like a puzzle. While the visual effect resembles the post-impressionist pointillism of Georges Seurat, Close himself refers to Abstract Expressionism.
The piece was sold at Christie’s New York in 2015 for $2,405,000.
Gwynne is one of Close’s trademark, oversized, black-and-white close-up portraits.
This watercolour portrait is highly detailed and achingly beautiful. The piece was sold at Christie’s New York in 2004 for $2,807,500.
In Eric and other portraits of the late 1980s and early 1900s, Close created color in a myriad of combinations with the grand relaxation of his brush. The dots, diagonals, curves and dollops of paint in the painting form units acting as small abstract paintings within the whole.
Created in almost pointillist manner, the whole becomes recognizable once observed from a distance. Despite various deconstructions of the portrait, Close never lost sight of the image and its essence.
The painting was sold at Sotheby’s New York in 2005 for $3,040,000.
The composer Philip Glass was Close’s close friend and one of his favorite subjects. He first created the monumental black and white acrylic painting in 1969 and continued to explore the subject through another twenty works based on the same photograph.
The complex array of shadows, highlights, eccentric shapes and edges in this photographs appealed to Close as it allowed the extensive formal invention. Phil (Portrait of Philip Glass) from 1983 is one of five unique wet pulp paper pieces from the early 1980s.
The painting was sold at Sotheby’s New York in 2006 for $3,208,000.
The painting Johnis one of the eleven paintings from Chuck Close’s first series with the artist’s signature motif – portrait heads.
Monumental in scale, this piece is the final work in the series that established his subject matter throughout the rest of his career. Nine of eleven pieces from the series are in museum collections, while John is the only painting still in private hands.
Since Close started the series in black and white, this piece demonstrates the return of color to his oeuvre and the introduction of photography as an inspiration for his process.
This work was sold at Sotheby’s in 2005 for incredible $4,832,000.