Arty Party: Chuck Close

Let’s talk about Chuck Close until we all feel inadequate, yeah? It won’t take too long. For starters, here’s a self-portrait he painted in 1967.

Just some painting a guy did

I know, right?

Chuck first got into painting when he was 14 and saw some of Jackson Pollock’s work. He went on to be an abstract expressionist, a la Willem de Kooning, the complete opposite end of the spectrum from the picture you just saw.

At some point, the art critic Clement Greenburg made a pronouncement that the only thing one could not do any more is paint a portrait, which Close took as a challenge. He painted portraits of his family and friends and self, intentionally choosing people that were not famous. “I don’t want the viewer to recognize the head of Castro and think he has understood my work,” he said.

Someone you don't know.

Since he was a boy, Close had the handicaps piled on. He struggled with learning disabilities in school. Beyond that, his brain does not remember the faces of people he has met in order that he can recognize them when they meet again. There is no difference, to him, between a person who he passed once on a street and someone who bought one of his paintings for millions of dollars. In fact, his paintings help him recognize the people he is close to. He can remember a face he has painted.

He also has plenty of self-imposed limitations. He used to paint an entire canvas black and use a razor to scrape out the highlights. One of his best-known limitations involved painting portraits using only thumbprints.

Thumbprints, you guys. THUMBPRINTS!

In 1988, a spinal artery collapse left him paralyzed from the neck down. With months of rehabilitation, he was able to continue painting, but is still confined to a wheelchair.  Now he paints with brush strapped to his wrist.  Of course, he had so many artificially imposed limitations before, this just pushed him to progress.

Whoa.

Before every home had a computer and the concept of pixels became ubiquitous, Chuck worked around his physical limitations by dividing his canvas up into a grid and painting shapes into each square so that, when viewed from a distance, it all blends together and the images are still highly realistic.

Most recently, he ventured into tapestry. Yes, these are tapestries.

So, there you have it. Next time my hand cramps up from holding my brush, I’l have plenty to feel lousy about.

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