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Sometimes said to be the most famous living American artist, Chuck Close is a New York-based painter known for his large-scale, photorealistic portraits depicting his artist friends, his family, and, perhaps most powerfully, himself. A graduate of the University of Washington and later Yale, where he studied art with other important figures like Jasper Johns, Brice Marden and Richard Serra, Close came to prominence early on for portraits that he painted in black and white, using a marking system that mimicked the dot system of mechanical printing. Frontal, relatively expressionless poses are deliberately chosen by Close so as to not confine the significance of a portrait to the facial expression of its subject. A painter who always works from photographic snapshots of his subjects, Close strives not idealize the people he paints in any way; imperfections and blemishes are never masked. “I am a humanist and I hope that a bit of humanity is in [my work] somewhere,” Close has said. “I just don’t like to editorialize it.”
When spinal artery collapse left Close almost completely paralyzed in 1988, his biggest fear, he has said, was to be unable to continue making art. To overcome his debility, the artist developed a system which allowed him to continue producing large-scale portraits by breaking them down into smaller individual units that would be assembled upon completion. Close strapped a paintbrush to his hands and worked in a specially designed two-floor studio, where his large canvases could be moved between the floors. The physicality of painting was something he did not want to give up. “Painting is one of the most magical of mediums," he once said, "because it transcends its own reality.” What Close's work ultimately does is expose the subjective nature of 'reality', poised somewhere between his artistic interpretation of a subject and our experience of his works as viewers and participants in its dialogue. Recently the artist has begun to expand into the arena of making photo-realistic Jacquard tapestries, and his subjects have expanded beyond his intimate circle to include such prominent figures as Bill Clinton, Brad Pitt, and the Dali Lama.
Watch an interview with Chuck Close conducted by Charlie Rose:
Watch an excerpt from MoMA's public program Painting Process/Process Painting:(read less)
Inspirations & Key Themes: Humanism, People, Photography, physicality