Born Charles Thomas Close on July 5, 1940 in Monroe, WA, Chuck Close is an American artist best know for his portraits.
He always liked to draw, and at age of 4 he knew he wanted to be an artist. In 1962, he received his B.A. from the University of Washington in Seattle. He then attended graduate school at Yale University, where he received his MFA in 1964. After Yale, he lived in Europe on a Fulbright grant. When he returned to the U.S., he worked as an art teacher at the University of Massachusetts. In 1969 his work was included in the Whitney Biennial, and he had his first one man show in 1970. Close's work was first exhibited at the New York Museum of Modern Art in early 1973.
In his forties, he suffered damage to his anterior spinal artery which left him paralyzed. Undeterred, Close adapted his method of painting to compensate and now works with a brush strapped to his wrist, continuing to develop his practice of painting, photography, printmaking, and textile arts.
A major figure of 20th and 21st century painting, Close is known for his uncanny large-scale Photorealist portraiture. The subjects of his portraits are usually his family and friends, including artists such as Richard Serra, Alex Katz or Cindy Sherman. The artist builds his iconic paintings through a signature grid system where each square is individually marked, corresponding with a cell marked in his photographs. Similar to Impressionist canvases, his compositions come into view as an observer stands farther away from them — especially as he has, over time, strayed from realism into more painterly, interpretive series.
Close emerged from the 1970's painting movement of Photorealism but then moved well beyond its initially hyper-attentive renderings. To create his iconic portraits, Close puts a grid on the photo and on the canvas and copies cell by cell. As one can see in this work, Self Portrait, each of the individual units of the grid seems like a miniature abstract painting itself. His first picture with this method was Big Self Portrait, a black and white picture of his face made in 1968.
Self Portraits are particularly interesting because they allow the viewer to make comparisons between the older and the newest. They witness the development of Close's artistic style and the change of his own identity and way of looking at himself over the years.
Chuck Close suffers from a condition called prosopagnosia, or face blindness, due to which he can not remember and recognize faces. The artist himself has suggested that this condition is what first inspired him to do portraits as main subject of his work.
For more than 30 years Chuck Close has explored the art of printmaking. While a painting can occupy Close for months, it is not unusual for one print to take up to two years to complete, from concept to final edition. The creative process is as important to him as the finished product. He has worked with oil and acrylic painting, photography, mezzotint printing, and various additional media. Shifting confidently from one to the other, the artist suggests that his conceptual intentions are ultimately timeless, whereas his tools or materials are infinitely interchangeable. This is partly why Close's practice of portrait painting has for over forty years remained surprisingly contemporary.
Today Chuck Close is one of the most famous and appreciated contemporary artists. His portraits are in museum and collections all over the world.