Chuck Close: Self-Portraits in Edition
ESSAY BY BREIANNA COCHRAN
This exhibition is comprised of fourteen self-portraits by Chuck Close ranging from photography to woodcut to silkscreen to a handmade cotton and linen paper print. The wide range of techniques displayed offers a sense of how the artist has been able to effectively represent the same subject in radically different mediums.
Chuck Close belongs to the first generation of American Photorealists alongside Richard Estes, Robert Cottingham, Robert Bechtle, and Ralph Goings. When Close began his work, photography was the leading means of reproducing the actual world, and abstraction became the focus of the art world. Photorealism developed as a counter to this abstraction, namely Abstract Expressionism. Close worked from the very medium that threatened the value of art, creating imagery that appeared to be photographic, yet if examined more closely is comprised of a series of marks. The artist was able to realistically reproduce his subjects by the use of a grid, which also allowed him to enlarge his work several times the size of the photograph from which he worked. Close translated every detail from the photographic image into his work, including the blurriness and sharpness of the depth of field, making it seem even more like a photograph.
In the late 1960’s it was seen as unwise to paint a representational image, let alone a portrait. “I remember Clement Greenberg said to de Kooning that the only thing you can’t do in art anymore is make a portrait. I thought, well, if Greenberg thinks he can’t do it, then I am going to have a lot of operating room all to myself.” “These portraits are like mug shots, allowing for the greatest information about the person to be captured.” Close’s self portraits in no way idealize him, and are chosen for their blandness of expression. Early on, Close started creating at least one self-portrait per show. After time, these self-portraits began to reveal the aging face of Close and changing eyewear.
Close doesn’t have a large oeuvre of paintings, so he considers it important to create prints. “I really believe in access, in people standing or sitting in front of these objects. That is the essential experience.” While accessibility is significant to Close, he’s not interested in the posterized reproductions of printmaking. Every one of his prints are made by hand, even though sometimes not his own. He revels in the detailed adjustments that make the image perfect. To Close the process is just as important as the finished product, he even inventing a new style of print making, the scribble etching. Greatly expanding the possibilities of the medium, Close invents new ways of using old techniques.
Printmaking has always been an important part of Close’s working method. “Prints have moved me in my unique work more than anything else has,” he has said. “Prints change the way I think about things.” Close creates prints as large as the press will take with the goal, “to lose track of the whole and get lost in the details.” Being so large, his prints are very time consuming, one edition can take up to two years to complete. He creates his prints from past paintings, drawings, and of course, photographs. Close began using photographs instead of live models out of personal need. He suffers from face blindness, any alteration in the face such as change of mood or changed appearance makes it impossible for him to recognize a face. “There’s no question that I was driven to make portraits in an effort to really cement these images and make them something that I could retain.”
Close has been creating imagery from photographs since 1968. Contact Sheet, on view in the exhibition, reveals the process behind selecting a photograph to work from. This contact sheet image of Close, with a cigarette in his mouth, was translated to oil on canvas in 1967-68, titled Big Self-Portrait. This was Close’s first mural-sized work created from a photograph. In 1979 photography stopped being simply a reference aid for Chuck and became part of his work. He has explored large-format Polaroid film, digitized ink-jet printing, and a largely unpracticed process, the daguerreotype. In 2006, a survey of Close’s self-portraits, Chuck Close: Self-Portraits 1967-2005 traveled to the Walker Art Center in Minnesota, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the High Museum of Art in Georgia, and the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in New York.
It is with great gratitude and admiration that Steven Vail Fine Arts – Project Room presents this body of work by Chuck Close, one of the most seminal and revered artists in our world today.