Chuck Close (born 1940) is an American photorealist specializing in close-up portraits and self-portraits. Close is one of the very few modern realists or photorealists who focus on the human face. In 1988, in mid-career, Close was paralyzed due to a blood clot in his spinal column. He regained partial use of his arms, and was able to return to painting after developing techniques which allowed him to work from a wheelchair. All of Close’s works are based on photographs he takes himself.
Close always follows the same guidelines in planning a painting. The source photograph is a tightly cropped head and shoulder shot. The subject is a family member or friend. The finished work is always titled by the subject’s first name alone (with the exception of “Self-Portrait”). This decision was intended to project an aura of anonymity, allowing viewers to approach the work without preconceived ideas about the sitter.
Close’s working method is extremely labor-intensive. He begins by dividing his source photograph into a grid and creating a corresponding grid on the canvas. He then meticulously transcribes the image onto the canvas square by square, proceeding from the top left to the bottom right. Some of the largest canvases contain thousands of squares; Close completes all of his paintings by hand. Given the painstaking nature of this work, some of the earlier large-scale paintings took up to fourteen months to complete.
Close’s work falls into two periods, the early and the middle, in which he is now fruitfully engaged. It is easy to divide the two periods on either side of Close’s 1988 stroke that left him unable to hold a brush. (He paints with his brush tied to his hand by a metal and Velcro device.) Close started to work with bolder, more expressive and colorful marks before his great physical trauma. The new work is both the same; they’re recognizable as works by Close and could be by no one else He still uses the grid and he still paints heads. Although the amount of information the new pictures carry is less than the old, the characters depicted seem warmer, more immediate, and more exuberant.
Close’s repertory of marks has changed dramatically. In place of the discreet dots and miniature strokes of his early work, not to mention the pictures constructed of fingerprints he made in the early’80s, each of the enlarged squares in the new grids contains colorful, painterly marks that function as mini- abstract paintings of their own. Concentric circles, lozenges, hot dog and doughnut-like shapes, and freeform squiggles are the building blocks of his new faces. His palette has expanded from black and white and color images based on the three primaries to one that tilts toward yellow and flesh tones at one extreme, and deep purples and blues on the other. In brief, Close’s exploration of color has been equally thorough and systematic.
He began by imitating black-and-white photography, then pioneered a three-color process akin to that used in commercial printmaking. Since 1986, Close has used oil paint as his primary painting medium, and currently favors brushwork that mixes colors in a lively, seemingly playful manner, so that each square in his grid is like a miniature mosaic. He is presently one of the most remarkable and well-known artists of the 20th century.