Chuck Close himself has become one of contemporary art’s most recognizable faces, thanks to countless self-portraits in media that range from oil on canvas to paper pulp to holograms and daguerreotypes. Here is an introduction to an interview with Close on Fresh Air March 5, 2004
He’s been called the “reigning portraitist of the Information Age.” He creates jumbo-size faces on canvas (8 or 9 feet high), copying them from photographs. They are painted in a dotted faux pointillist style. In 1988 Close suffered a stroke, which left him paralyzed from the neck down. Gaining partial use of his hand with a brace, he learned to paint all over again.
While it’s true that thirteen years ago, a blood clot lodged in a spinal artery nearly killed Close and left him temporarily quadriplegic, his artistic expression never came to a halt. Through physical therapy and iron determination, he regained the use of his arms and resumed working, learning to paint with brushes strapped to his wrist, having lost the use of his hands. “I miss drawing, which requires fingers and wrist,” Close acknowledged. “But painting is done with the arm.”
The interesting thing is that viewers of his works often have no perception of his disability. Close says he likes it that way. His art is what allows him to transcend the definitions most people place on the physically challenged. What messages lie within the artist’s personal story? Does it matter that the viewer knows of his disability?
Following an interview with Close, John Clay wrote: In the late 1970s, Close began to put the spectrum through one transformation after another – color dots, large and small, small dots within large, three colors combined to make all colors (the red-blue-yellow used in color printing), and countless colors combined to make countless others. Color isn’t just there in the tube for Close; you make it on the canvas. And color isn’t something you plan in your head and then try to copy; you find color, through the painting process itself. Form and line, too, are discovered. Close starts with a photo, covers it with a grid, transfers the grid, enlarged to scale, onto the big blank canvas, and then starts in one corner, applying paint to the squares, repeating the process in pass after pass from different angles. He makes no underlying sketch to guide him– just the grid. The ears and eyes and locks of hair appear only as the regions of hue and dark and light incrementally coalesce into shapes. Now 61, Close continues finding new color and new form through portraits of the people he knows and loves.
What within Close’s process and technique, his attention to detail and play with color can be seen as metaphors for humanity?