Culture / Art Republik

Remembering Prolific Painter, Chuck Close

The American artist was a huge influence on the genre of portraiture in the art scene.

Aug 24, 2021 | By Joseph Low
Self-Portrait III, 2012, Chuck Close
Image: Chuck Close

Chuck Close, the prolific artist known for his photorealist portraits, died of congestive heart failure resulting from a long illness. He was 81 years old. 

Pace Gallery, which represents him announced his passing last Thursday (August 19) and Arne Glimcher, the Pace chairman, said losing Close is a loss for the world of art and that his “contributions are inextricable from the achievements of 20th- and 21st-century art”.

The painter was among a burgeoning group of artists that came to define the ‘70s New York art scene. The group also includes Richard Serra, Jennifer Barlett, Brice Marden, and Nancy Graves. Close developed a new style of painting that incorporated photography into his painting process in a bid to create a more exact image. However, he was quick to dismiss the idea that he was trying to duplicate photographs in an interview with Artforum in 1970. 

Close did not gain immediate fame for his larger-than-life portraits of himself, his family, and friends. He worked tirelessly to hone his craft and scrutinised different magazine covers to dissect how he can create his paintings. His hard work paid off and slowly, many of his pieces became well-known and he eventually became one of the most important artists in the 20th century.

In 2017, during the height of the #MeToo movement, Close was accused of sexual harassment by multiple women. The reports by New York Times, HuffPost and others, alleged victims claimed that they felt uncomfortable with Close’s requests and sexually inappropriate remarks. Close acknowledged having a “dirty mouth,” but denied having offended anyone when interviewed.

Despite being accused in spades and having a show postponed indefinitely by the National Gallery of Art, Close was a figure that was revered and has heralded a new era for portraiture.

Here are some of Close’s top artworks:

Big Self-Portrait (1967-68)

Big Self-Portrait (1968)
Image: Chuck Close

This artwork showcases Close’s unique method of creating portraits, which uses a “mug shot” as the starting point. The black-and-white style exemplifies the subject’s flaws and the original photographic distortion caused by the camera. Furthermore, this particular artwork was to refute one of his critic’s claims that it was impossible for an “advanced” artist to work in portraiture, the result is a watershed piece that created a new painting style.

Kent (1970)

Kent (1970)
Image: Chuck Close

Kent is a piece that saw Close explore the three-colour process for the first time. This process sees the imitation or re-employment of the photographic dye-transfer method. What Close tried to bring out with this piece was the suggestion that illusion is ultimately in the eye of the beholder. The entire process took Close three times as long to complete as he had to apply colours atop the other.

Keith/Mezzotint (1972)

Keith/Mezzotint (1972)
Image: Chuck Close

For Keith, Close used the mezzotint process, an outdated printmaking style that does not bode well with time. Due to gradual erosion, the plate he created made only ten good prints. The surface colouring is noticeably lighter around the subject’s nose area. The process helped to yield a softer, light-infused surface as seen in the subject’s hair. The random effects typical of printmaking inspired Close to experiment further with various media.

Fanny/Fingerprinting (1985)

Fanny/Fingerprinting, 1985
Image: Chuck Close

Close enjoyed the physical interaction between the artist and material and therefore, he gravitated towards the fingerprint method. This art style is often dismissed as being a kitschy version of what art should be. It is unsophisticated and informal, but these qualities resonated well with Close, especially with this particular artwork that featured a portrait of his grandmother. The different touches of oil pigment that made up this piece gave the appearance of supple flesh while also conveying a sense of intimacy between Close and his grandmother.

Self-Portrait (1997)

Self-Portrait (2000)
Image: Chuck Close

This work represents how far Close has grown as an artist over the four decades. The troubled stare of the young man in Big Self-Portrait is a striking contrast with the self-portrait of 1997 (this piece). The comparison elucidates the evolution of Close from a fledgling artist to an international icon. Furthermore, his works in the 1990s have become more abstract in nature and using this piece as an example, individual units of the grid is actually a miniature abstract painting unto itself. Each comprises a panoply of colours and shapes that seem to “pop out” from the painting.

Andes (2006)

Andres (2006)
Image: Chuck Close

Tapestry, the repetitive and episodic weaving process runs parallel with the method used to create this art piece. Various colours were juxtaposed painstakingly using this method where computerised photo transfers of glass daguerreotypes or Polaroid snapshots were used. This fitted ideally with Close’s interest in large-scale work that banked largely on having pinpoint-link precision. For this piece, Close did a portrait of his colleague Andres Serrano where it showcased exactly how the weave, with its various colours, mimicked a man pressing his face to a window.

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