Chuck Close was born in Monroe, Washington, in 1940. In 1962 he received a BA from the University of Washington, Seattle, and in 1964 an MFA from Yale University. After graduate school, he lived in Europe and studied at the Akademie der Bildenden Künste in Vienna with the assistance of a Fulbright grant.
As a student, Close painted biomorphic abstractions, later experimenting with figuration. In the late 1960s he began directly copying simple head-and-shoulders photographic portraits onto canvas, using a limited palette of black and white, as in Big Self-Portrait (1967–68). In 1970 he returned to color, continuing to use photographic portraits as a model but incorporating a new technique in which he constructed the image from a gridded arrangement of individual color squares, each of which is like an abstract painting; viewed from afar, they form a unified, highly realistic image. Close would continue to employ a realist approach based on photographic reproductions in the decades that followed. In a series of works begun in 1971, he limited his palette to cyan, magenta, and yellow in imitation of color printing techniques used for the mass reproduction of images, as in Linda (1975–76). The rigorous systems Close employed as he explored different modes of representation link him not only to Photorealists such as Richard Estes and Audrey Flack, but also to Conceptual art.
In December 1988 Close suffered a seizure that left him paralyzed from the neck down. After "The Event," as Close calls it, he underwent months of rehabilitation, eventually regaining some movement in his arms and legs. He continued to paint, using a brush strapped to his wrist with tape. Close also began to create wall-size portraits in tapestry, depicting both celebrity icons (such as Kate Moss) and friends (such as Cindy Sherman and Philip Glass), as well as himself.
He has been the recipient of numerous awards, including the National Medal of Arts from President Bill Clinton in 2000, the New York State Governor’s Art Award, and the Skowhegan Arts Medal, among others. Close has received over 20 honorary degrees including one from Yale University, his alma mater. In 1990, he was elected into the National Academy of Design as an Associate Academician, and became a full Academician in 1992. New York Mayor, Michael R. Bloomberg, appointed him the artist to the Cultural Affairs Advisory Commission, a body mandated by the City Charter to advise the mayor and the cultural affairs commissioner. Close painted President Clinton in 2006 and photographed President Barack Obama in 2012. In 2010, he was appointed by Obama to the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities.
Close's first solo show was at the Bykert Gallery, New York (1970), and his first museum exhibition was at the Museum of Modern Art, New York (1973). In 1979 his work was included in the Whitney Biennial, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, and the following year his portraits were the subject of an exhibition at the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis. A major midcareer retrospective of his work was mounted at the Museum of Modern Art in 1998. In 2003 the Blaffer Art Museum at the University of Houston presented a survey of his prints, which traveled to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, the following year. Close’s work is in the collections of most of the great international museums of contemporary art, including the Walker Art Center, Minnesota; the Tate Modern, London; and the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris.