Chuck Close


He studied at the University of Washington School of Art (B.A., 1962) and at the Yale University School of Art and Architecture (B.F.A., 1963; M.F.A., 1964). In 1964, he won a Fulbright Scholarship to study in Vienna at the Academy of Fine Arts. 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.

Close’s first solo exhibition included a series of enormous black-and-white portraits that he had painstakingly transformed from small photographs to colossal paintings. He reproduced and magnified both the mechanical shortcomings of the photograph—blurriness and distortion—and the flaws of the human face: bloodshot eyes, broken capillaries, and enlarged pores.

Photorealism developed as a reaction to the detachment of Minimalism and conceptual art, which did not depict representational images. Big Self-Portrait, in black and white, was the first of Close’smural-sized works painted from photographs. This painting took four months to complete. To make this work, Close took several photographs of himself in which his head and neck filled the frame. From these he selected one of the images and made two 11 x 14-inch enlargements. On one of the photographs he drew a grid, then lettered and numbered each square. Using both the gridded and un-gridded photographs, he carefully transferred the photographic image square by square onto a large canvas measuring 107 1/2 x 83 1/2 inches. He used acrylic paint and an airbrush to include every detail.

Throughout his career, the artist continued to concentrate on portraits—from the neck up—based on photographs he had taken. In addition to self-portraits, the images were usually of friends – many of whom were prominent in the art world. These images represent a very human, flawed view of the subjects, given the scale of attention granted to imperfections, while also presenting a rather grand, iconic view of the sitters, given the monumental and confrontational quality of the works. During the 1970s and ’80s, Close began to use color, experimenting with a variety of media and techniques. One technique involved simulating the process of printing: he used only cyan, magenta, and yellow, applying one layer of color at a time to the canvas. For his “Fingerprint Series,” Close developed one of his most innovative techniques. Inking his thumb and forefinger, the artist would press the medium into the canvas in order to achieve a subtle range of greys. Viewed up close, the spiraling patterns of his fingerprints can easily be seen. However, from a distance, the method is unidentifiable, creating the illusion of a polished, unified whole.