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Chuck Close Artworks

American Painter and Photographer

Chuck Close Photo
Movement: Photorealism

Born: July 5, 1940 - Monroe, Washington

Artworks by Chuck Close

The below artworks are the most important by Chuck Close - that both overview the major creative periods, and highlight the greatest achievements by the artist.

Big Nude (1967)

"Big Nude" is the first painting completed in Close's signature grid process, and both its size and self-conscious title indicate its ambitious nature. Although the transferred image "reads" as a flat transcription of light and dark characteristic of a photograph, the painting's variegated brushstrokes reveal Big Nude to be more of a prototype for future development than a fully resolved picture. Poised precariously between a common studio exercise in figure drawing and a 1960s girlie magazine shoot, "Big Nude" also challenges the future of representational painting at a moment in history when the genre would seem to have long ago exhausted its potential for future development. Only the antiseptic whiteness of the canvas hints at a new approach to the figure that might perfectly marry an instant, unforgiving photographic record of a subject with the artist's reconsideration of its every component over months of studied, methodical transcription.

Big Self-Portrait (1967-68)

The tentative air of experimentation that might be said to characterize Big Nude is nowhere apparent in Big Self-Portrait, a watershed painting that virtually showcases Close's unique method. Abandoning the full-body view, Close turned to one of the oldest traditions anywhere in art history, the self-portrait. Close had partially set out to refute the critic Clement Greenberg's claim that it was impossible for an "advanced" artist to work in portraiture. Closes's untraditional approach involved conceiving of and creating a unique kind of "mug shot," a black-and-white idiom that exacerbated the subject's blemishes and the original photographic distortion caused by the camera. The devotion to the idea of an unsparing, head-on view led him to refuse all commissions, as Close used only his own "mug" and that of close friends for his subjects.

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Kent (1970)

For Kent, Close made use of preparatory drawings for the first time to explore the three-color process, an imitation, or re-employment, of the photographic dye-transfer method. By adopting a mechanical procedure and mimicking it physically, or by hand crafting what is normally carried out by the camera, Close suggests that illusion is ultimately in the eye of the beholder, whose own optical apparatus finally "completes" the picture. Although Close literally painted the same image three times, one atop the other in separate colors, he was surprised when the work ended up taking three times as long to complete. In order to facilitate the process, Close wore cellophane filters over his eyeglasses in order to view marks in one color at a time.

Keith/Mezzotint (1972)

The large format of Keith, although not nearly as large as Close's earlier portrait paintings, did not translate well to the outdated mezzotint process. Due to its gradual erosion, the plate made only ten good prints, and the surface coloring is noticeably lighter in the middle around the sitter's nose. The mezzotint printmaking process yields a soft, light-infused surface, here seen to best effect in Closes's rendering of the sitter's hair. The random effects typical of printmaking inspired Close to experiment further with various media.

Fanny/Fingerpainting (1985)

Close's enjoyment of the physical interaction between artist and material gave him a particular affinity for working in the fingerprint method. Criticized by some as a kitschy version of an art already informed by Pop, the unsophisticated technique, so reminiscent of child's play, seems doubly appropriate for this informal, yet subtly monumental portrait of the artist's grandmother. The numerous, individual touches of oil pigment gradually creating the appearance of supple flesh lends to the painting a sense of intimacy so appropriate to the underlying relationship between artist and his chosen subject.

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Self-Portrait (1997)

Chuck Close's work is most often associated in the popular mind with his own likeness. Although it has been chosen by the artist largely for the sake of convenience, Close's self portraits provide an interesting arena for gauging the development of his thought and work over four decades. The insouciant stare of the young man in Big Self-Portrait makes a striking counterpart to the stolid, knowing gaze of the older Close as represented in this self-portrait of 1997. Indeed, the comparison illustrates the evolution from fledgling artist to international icon. Compared to the earlier work, the 1990s Self-Portrait also shows how abstraction has come to play a more prominent role in Closes's portraits. Each of the individual units of the grid is a miniature abstract painting unto itself, comprising a panoply of colors and shapes that seem to have jumped directly to the canvas from the artist's palette.

Andres (2006)

In recent years, Close has extended his investigations into various media to the ancient genre of tapestry, the repetitive and episodic weaving process in many ways paralleling his own painstaking juxtaposition of various colors in much of his portraiture. Using computerized photo transfers of glass daguerreotypes (for black-and-white versions) or Polaroid snapshots, the tapestry medium is ideally suited for Close's interest in large-scale work that nonetheless depends on pinpoint-like precision. Here, a portrait of artist-colleague Andres Serrano, notorious for his irreverent Piss Christ (1987) photograph that continues to roil conservative Christians, beams triumphant from the weave, which is deftly composed of numerous threads of various colors intertwining with such precision that the human eye is virtually seduced into believing that this is a real man pressing his face to a window.

Related Artists and Major Works

Yellow Islands (1952)

Artist: Jackson Pollock (Read Full Artist Overview, Biography, and Artworks pages)

Yellow Islands was produced in one of Pollock's last productive years of painting. Made during a period when he was concentrating on black and white pictures, Yellow Islands likely began as a purely black canvas. Swift and aggressive gestures are interspersed with a large amount of black paint that was clearly poured onto the canvas while it was in a vertical position. After allowing a certain amount of stain, Pollock added areas of yellow and crimson with a brush on top of the black. He then lifted the canvas upright while the paint was still wet, allowing it to run.

Red Smile (1963)

Artist: Alex Katz (Read Full Artist Overview, Biography, and Artworks pages)

This work exemplifies Katz's highly polished, mature technique where there is little trace of the work's making. In the 1960's, Katz began to produce paintings inspired by the aesthetics of commercial advertising, film, and television, demonstrating his work's parallel with the burgeoning Pop art movement. Red Smile is nearly ten feet wide, and is one of his largest portraits to date. The composition resembles a billboard or a cinematic close-up in a widescreen view. The cropped view of Ada on the right side with her pale skin, clothing, and linear detailing of face, shirt, and hair, is balanced by the bold expanse of flat red to the left. The red ground seems to caress the contour of her face, and this feature, along with gleaming smile, expresses the warmth and contentment for which Katz's art is so often celebrated.

Woman III (1951-53)

Artist: Willem de Kooning (Read Full Artist Overview, Biography, and Artworks pages)

Woman III belongs to the series of Women paintings de Kooning showed at the Sidney Janis Gallery to much outrage and controversy within the art world. The surface of the canvas is covered in thick swathes of energetic, vertical, and horizontal gestures of creamy and silvery hues. From this frantic surface, the figure of a wide-eyed, large-breasted woman emerges. She sports blond hair and a big smile. The compactness of the figure gives the sense of the body being squeezed or constrained, but at the same time, its gestural quality gives it a sense of wound-up energy. The slight tapering of the figure towards the knees and ankles is reminiscent of prehistoric figurines and Cycladic idols, precedents of the importance of the female form in art to which de Kooning often alluded. Importantly, de Kooning blends the figure and ground together, making it difficult to discern where one begins and ends, hence the woman both dissolves into and emerges from the background, an effect that de Kooning termed "no-environment." In the Women paintings from the early 1950s, we begin to see the ways in which body and landscape will merge in his later paintings.

The theme of women was one that de Kooning returned to regularly. Some cited his rocky relationship with his wife, his estranged relationship with his mother, and his penchant for womanizing as the source for the subject. Some went so far to say that de Kooning must hate women because, in this instance, he used smears of red paint to depict three bullet holes across her chest, but de Kooning responded to the accusation by saying, "I thought it was rubies." Elaine de Kooning clarified, explaining, "The bullet holes, be it known, are very chic rubies which stick to the skin unaided or abetted by pins or chains - a device de Kooning saw in Harper's Bazaar and never forgot."

While critics may have projected their own anxieties and misogynist tendencies onto the pictures, they missed the ways in which de Kooning engaged with and incorporated popular, consumer culture in his paintings. He often spoke of his women as being funny and larger than life, satirizing the shopping denizens of department stores and the fashionable ladies who paraded down Madison Avenue. He may have looked to ancient idols and classical odalisques, but de Kooning was equally intrigued with pin-up girls and movie stars. He was one of the only Abstract Expressionists to take on such subject matter, and for this reason he became an important touchstone for younger artists like Robert Rauschenberg, Larry Rivers, Grace Hartigan, and later Pop Artists.


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