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Chuck Close

July 2, 2011 5 comments

I came across the work of Chuck Close recently, whilst watching an extraordinary TV programme about Oliver Sacks and face blindness. Chuck Close (who paradoxically for a portrait artist also suffers from face blindness) is an American who made his name in the late 60’s, early 70’s painting huge hyper-realistic portraits, that are so unbelievably lifelike, that the image I’ve used here on the left (Big Self Portrait from 1969) simply looks like a photo, when in reality it’s a canvas about 1.5x 2m, with every hair, smoke curl and skin mark painted with a brush…

Despite suffering a collapsed spinal artery in 1988 that left him paralysed and wheelchair bound (what he now refers to as “The Event”) he has continued to paint. His condition has meant that, unable to paint in the very detailed styles that made his name, he has had to adapt, and has developed a very beautiful and unique approach to portraiture.

Photographs of his subject are divided by his assistants into a diagonal grid, which Close then translates, square by square, with a paint brush tied to his hand, into truly stunning images. His use of block colour and shapes, in small controlled areas, maximises his limited physical ability and has undoubtably allowed a genuinely remarkable gift to develop.

His work, always on a large scale, is produced and exhibited through a variety of mediums including his brush painted canvases, fingerprint painted canvases, daguerroetype and photogravure photographs and tapestries.

What I think shines through, especially in his more recent self portraits is the sparkle in his eye, the feeling that despite his unimaginably difficult condition, he his a man at peace with himself and absolutely at the top of his game…

Quite by coincidence, Wikipedia tells me that it’s his 71st birthday in three days time, so Happy Birthday Chuck, I think you are one amazing human being…

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