1940, Monroe, Washington
2021, Oceanside, New York
Close explains why he makes portraits
A face, staring straight forward, isolated and centered, more a driver’s license or passport photo than a traditional painted portrait. Chuck Close has made a career of creating these portraits of himself, his friends, family members, and fellow artists like Agnes Martin, Roy Lichtenstein, Philip Glass.
Painting was dead. I’ve been around long enough to have painting be dead three or four times. And a period when painting is dead is absolutely the best time to paint, because it’s not the preferred sensibility, it’s not dictated what painting should look like; nobody cares anyhow.
And I remember the reigning art critic at the time, Clement Greenberg, famously said, “There’s only one thing that can’t be done in art today, and that’s paint a portrait.” And I thought: Hm. That’s pretty interesting. That must mean that I’m gonna have a lot of elbow room, and not a whole lotta competition. (laughs) Which gave me the opportunity to pick and choose from the conventions and traditions of portraiture, which had no urgency or importance for anybody in particular and sorta position myself in a way that I would make a truly modern portrait.
His signature technique is to divide a photograph into tiny segments on a grid. Sometimes we see a face, sometimes a confetti of abstract forms.
Using a grid to blow something up goes back, you know, at least to the Egyptians.
I’m often overwhelmed by the whole. And I found that if I break things down into small bite sized pieces, this big overwhelming problem becomes much more solvable. You solve this little piece, and then that little piece. And if you hang in there, you will get somewhere.
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