Chuck Close

(born 1939-)

Chuck Close is associated with the style of painting called Photorealism or Superrealism. This style was created by artists in the early 1970s. It created a link between representational systems of painting and photography. Photorealism developed as a reaction to the detachment of Minimalism and conceptual art, which did not depict representational images.   Photorealists such as Close frequently used a grid technique to enlarge a photograph and reduce each square to formal elements of design. Each grid is its own little work of art. Perhaps what he is most famous for are his portraits, which include intensely personal images of his friends, family, and fellow artists as well as self-portraits. Each painting, built of carefully constructed grids, is both highly abstract and a systematic composition of individual units or marks, and has a finely rendered likeness to his subject.   As a boy, Charles Thomas Close better known as Chuck Close always liked to draw. At age four, he knew he wanted to be an artist. At the age of five, his father made him an easel for his birthday and got him a set of oil paints from Sears. He began to draw and paint, and eventually people started to take notice. Little did he know back then that he would indeed go to college, graduate not only from the University of Washington in 1962 (magna cum laude) but from Yale as well.   Now at the age of fifty-seven, he is one of the true superstars of art. His works hang in the world's most prestigious museums; he is considered by ARTNews magazine to be one of the fifty most influential people in the art world. He is so big that he once turned down a major retrospective art New York 's Metropolitan Museum of Art because promises were broken. He chose the Museum of Modern Art instead. To this day, no one can recall an artist ever turning down the Met!   However, his career was not all easy. Because he was dyslexic, everyone considered him to be dumb and lazy. He was even told to forget about college. . He has said "My early learning disabilities affected what I did as an artist. I could never remember faces, and I'm sure I was driven toward portraits because of the need to scan study and commit to memory the faces of people who matter to me..." But that was not the only pain Close had to deal with in his younger life. His father, a sheet metal worker, plumber and on-the-side inventor, was always in ill health and moved the family from place to place several times in search of civil service jobs with health benefits. When Close was eleven years old, his life became a living hell. His father died. His mother, a trained pianist who in the Great Depression gave up her desire to reach a concert career, got breast cancer. They lost their home due to medical bills. His grandmother was later diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. In addition, Close, an only child, spent most of the year in bed with nephritis, a nasty kidney infection. Only one thing helped him cope with the agony, sadness and misery: art. The height of his career was on December 7, 1988, at the age of forty-nine. Close was one of the best portrait painters when he was stricken with a spinal blood clot that left him a quadriplegic. Many, including him thought his career was over. As he came to grips with life in a motorized wheelchair, unable to move from the neck down, with little hope for improvement, his biggest fear was that "I was not going to make art. Since I'll never be able to move again, I would not be able to make art. I watched my muscles waste. My hands didn't work." However, like the previous tragedies in his life, that did not stop him either. He not only returned to painting, but with a new style that has kept his place as one of the great American painters of our time. In 1997, he was honored with the University of Washington Alumnus Summa Laude Dignatus award, the highest honor an alumnus of the university can receive.

Almost all of Close's work is based on the use of a grid as an underlying basis for the representation of an image. This simple but surprisingly versatile structure provides the means for "a creative process that could be interrupted repeatedly without.damaging the final product, in which the segmented structure was never intended to be disguised." It is important to note that none of Close's images are created digitally or photo-mechanically. While it is tempting to read his gridded details as digital integers, all his work is made the old-fashioned way-by hand.

Close's paintings are labor intensive and time consuming, and his prints are more so. While a painting can occupy Close for many months, it is not unusual for one print to take upward of two years to complete. Close has complete respect for, and trust in, the technical processes-and the collaboration with master printers-essential to the creation of his prints. The creative process is as important to Close as the finished product.

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