Chuck Close photographs friends and acquaintances, then uses those images when making his giant portraits. For this color portrait, he had five color separations made from a single color photograph. After dividing his canvas and each of the separations into a grid of small squares, he painted each square first in magenta, then in cyan (blue) and finally in yellow, mimicking the process of full-color printing. While portrait painting usually emphasizes artists’ intuitive responses to their subjects, Close makes it seem an impersonal, mechanical process. Nonetheless, the enormous size of this image endows it with a strong emotional impact.
Chuck Close Linda, 1975–76 Collection of the Akron Art Museum Charles Thomas Close has become widely known for portraits that are simultaneously intense and dispassionate. As a child he struggled with dyslexia but received encouragement from his family to pursue his interest in art. While an undergraduate at the University of Washington, Close won a national competition to attend a summer program at Yale University and later enrolled at Yale for graduate study. By 1967 he was settled in New York and experimenting with figure paintings based on his own black-and-white photographs. Among Close’s self-imposed limitations for his paintings of the 1970s are the following: working from photographs, concentrating on the subject’s head, centering the image with particular proportions, predetermining canvas size, depicting friends or family members only, using an airbrush, and predetermining the number of colors in his palette. For viewers these decisions deny any excitement over the artist’s individual handwork and direct the attention instead to the subject and the process by which the paintings are made. Close’s paintings examine the relationship between photographic reproduction and human sight. Never before has the stationary, monocular quality of photography been so graphically contrasted with the roving nature of human binocular vision. I am trying to make it very clear that I am making paintings from photographs and that this is not the way the human eye sees it. . . . At first I just had everything from the nose back to the cheeks sharp, and that defined the back edge of the focus. Then I decided that I wanted to make it a much shallower depth of field, and have the tip of the nose begin to blur, and I would have a sandwich.1 Linda is one of Close’s major pieces. Having worked for several years in black and white, he “decided to change the problem,” Close explained in the early 1970s. “I decided I would alter one variable and try color. The minimum number of colors to get full color is three. . . . Every square inch has some of all three.”2 He began by photographing a friend, Linda Rosenkrantz Finch. Color separations in magenta, cyan, and yellow were made from the photograph, as if to reproduce an image for printing in a magazine. From the separations, five dye transfer prints (which are also owned by the Akron Art Museum) were made as a guide. Grids were drawn onto the dye transfers, corresponding to a much larger grid drawn onto the canvas. After covering the canvas with multiple layers of white gesso, Close outlined the head in pencil, then mimicked the three color separations, applying one color at a time—red, blue, and yellow. It took about a year to complete the portrait. The pigment itself is extremely thin, having been dispersed by airbrush on the canvas in tiny droplets. The huge size of the canvas necessitated the use of a motorized lift to reach the top. In Linda Close captures the cold objectivity of photography, revealing pores, creases, and veins to the point of painfulness. But attention to factual description gradually gives way to an appreciation of the work’s enormous psychological complexity. Does Close’s enlargement heroicize this average, aging face? Or is it a cruel exposure? With her blank stare, is Linda the passive recipient of our gaze or a mammoth and domineering presence surveying our territory? Is the mug-shot format a mere pictorial device, or does it remind us how bureaucracies methodically collect information about individuals? Close’s portraits address our fragile sense of identity, first tantalizing our inflated notion of importance, then reminding us that our identities are mere bits of information to be reproduced by color globules and technical procedures. - Mitchell D. Kahan, 2001 1. “The Photo-Realists: 12 Interviews,” Art in America 60 (November–December 1972): 76. 2. Ibid., 77. Guare, John. Chuck Close: Life and Work 1988–1995. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1995. Lyons, Lisa, and Robert Storr. Chuck Close. New York: Rizzoli International, 1987. Storr, Robert. Chuck Close. With essays by Kirk Varnedoe and Deborah Wye. New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1998.
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