Chuck Close

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…

  1. vexarb
    July 3, 2011 at 05:12

    Reminds me of the last paintings of Renoir: likewise semi-paralysed (with arthritis) likewise had the brush strapped to his hand, likewise triumphed gloriously over infirmity. However, Renoir had a sunnier temperament. I guess Chuck might have been tough but morose from birth – even before “the event”. Interesting that both Chuck & Renoir continued to paint in a realistic style even though they could no longer do fine brush strokes.

    • July 3, 2011 at 16:07

      Hi Vexarb
      Nice to hear from you again. I don’t know much about Renoir I’m afraid, but I will certainly check his story out, as it sounds like a very interesting parallel.
      Thanks for reading…

  2. September 22, 2011 at 22:03

    I don’t think Chuck ever used fine brush strokes, did he? I thought his work (Big Self Portrait, for example) was airbrush in a pixelated style one at a time. Am I misinformed?

  3. November 17, 2013 at 07:39

    Thanks for sharing a range of pictures and a cool story. It’s also amazing that Close paints his own pictures in an age when artists like Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst don’t touch their pieces, but have artist assistants carry out all their work for them. Close could easily do the same, but doesn’t.

  1. March 7, 2012 at 11:49

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