Close, Chuck

The remarkable career of artist Chuck Close extends beyond his completed works of art. More than just a painter, photographer, and printmaker, Close is a builder who, in his words, builds “painting experiences for the viewer.” Highly renowned as a painter, Close is also a master printmaker, who has, over the course of more than 30 years, pushed the boundaries of traditional printmaking in remarkable ways.

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. “Process and collaboration” are two words that are essential to any conversation about Close’s prints.

Born in 1940 in Monroe, Washington, Close began taking art lessons as a child and at age 14 saw an exhibition of Jackson Pollock‘s abstract paintings, which helped inspire him to become a painter.  He studied at the University of Washington School of Art and at the Yale University School of Art and Architecture, and in 1964 he won a Fulbright scholarship to study in Vienna.  While teaching at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst (1965–67), he gradually rejected the elements of Abstract Expressionism that had initially characterized his work.

Throughout his career, Close continued to concentrate on portraits—from the neck up—based on photographs he had taken.  In addition to self-portraits, the portraits were usually of friends, many of whom were prominent in the art world.  During the 1970s and ’80s, Close began to use color and to experiment with a variety of media and techniques.

In 1988 a spinal blood clot left Close almost completely paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair. A brush-holding device strapped to his wrist and forearm, however, allowed him to continue working.  In the 1990s he replaced the minute detail of his earlier paintings with a grid of tiles daubed with colorful elliptical and ovoid shapes.  Viewed up close, each tile was in itself an abstract painting; when seen from a distance, the tiles came together to form a dynamic deconstruction of the human face.  In 1998, the Museum of Modern Art in New York City mounted a major retrospective of Close’s portraits.  Close has been called a Photo-Realist, a Minimalist, and an Abstract Expressionist but, as the 1998 retrospective proved, his commitment to his unique vision and his evolving techniques defy any easy categorization.

Chuck Close died at the age of 81 in 2021.