Master Spotlight :: Chuck Close

Chuck Close is a photorealist portrait painter. Photorealists work from photographs to create extremely realistic paintings. Chuck Close’s most famous paintings include “Frank” and “Big Self-Portrait.”

Charles Thomas Close was born in 1940. He suffered from face blindness, severe dyslexia, and a neuromuscular condition that prevented him from playing sports. He had very few friends, and he did poorly in school, but Chuck Close loved art.

His parents were supportive of Chuck’s creative interest. When he was 11 years old though, his father died and his mother was diagnosed with cancer. Chuck got very sick himself and was stuck in bed for almost a year. Despite these tragedies, Chuck’s passion for art continued to grow. An exhibition of Jackson Pollack paintings inspired him to become a painter. Chuck earned degrees from the University of Washington and Yale’s Art and Architecture School.

Although he was inspired by abstraction, Close’s work changed dramatically at Yale. He experimented with new techniques throughout his career. “I threw away my brush,” The artist said, “I chose to do things I had no facility with. If you impose a limit to not do something you’ve done before, it will push you to where you’ve never gone before.” In this way, Close mastered a wide variety of materials including graphite, pastels, watercolor, finger painting, ink stamps, and printmaking. Using an original process that he described as “knitting,” the artist created large scale photographs and recreated them as massive photo-realistic paintings. His process blurred the line between painting and photography in a way that had never been seen before. His unusual application of color paved the way for the invention of the inkjet printer.

By the 1960s, Close’s enormous portraits were famous throughout New York. By the 1970s, he was recognized throughout at the world as one of America’s best contemporary artists.

In 1988 though, Close suffered an “event” that left him almost entirely paralyzed. He was confined to a wheelchair.
Despite these limitations, Close continued with his work. After physical therapy, he regained some use of his limbs. He taped brushes to his wrist and continued to paint. His style became more abstract and less precise, but even more compelling. He remains one of America’s greatest painters. His work is shown in museums and galleries around the world. It is met with rave reviews and expensive commissions including presidents Clinton and Obama. In 2000, he received the National Medal of Arts. In 2007, he was featured in a documentary, Chuck Close: A Portrait in Progress. In 2010, he was appointed to the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities.

Chuck Close lives and works in New York.

I am a fan of Chuck Close. Pretty much everything he does is fascinating to me. But the first work I ever saw of his were a collection of his fingerprint portraits, enormous photo-real likenesses created with an ink pad and fingerprints. I was blown away. I kept walking towards the images and away from them trying to find that magic line where they became people.

As a teacher, I have grown to appreciate Chuck Close even more. His methods and experimentation as an artist make him a versatile subject in the classroom. His life story though, his perseverance, and his wisdom are a wonderful example for all children. And a reminder to me to be a better teacher. If this bio doesn’t prove it, consider THIS SHORT VIDEO. You will thank yourself for watching it.

Line drawing of Chuck Close by yours truly, Rama Hughes.

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Posted by Rama on 12/09/12 under artists
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