Chuck Close: Prints, Process and Collaboration
An american artist, based in New York, Chuck Close has been painting portraits since the late 1960s, developing his printmaking skills from the early 1970s.
This recent self-portrait demonstrates the colour laying technique he most frequently uses, to great effect.
His work has to be seen close up to appreciate the complex application of media to create these semi-abstracted images. The detail shown here is of part of the mouth area and even within this small section shadows and highlights are very evident.
The majority of his portraits, or ‘heads’ as he likes to call them, are full frontal – somewhat like passport photos – and are produced using photographs as the reference. His subject matter is usually family, friends or very often himself. The exhibition showcases a variety of techniques, many of which contain this grid-like system whereby he breaks the subject down into small sections. When viewed from a distance of around 50cm it’s hard to discern exactly what is portrayed but move further back and these wonderous complex images appear as if by magic. It is beyond my comprehension how he plans and executes his colour choices.
Some works are huge and his studio is equipped with an elaborate grip-and-pulley system to hold, swivel and angle his pieces as he works on them. Being confined to a wheelchair has not hampered his ability to work and he employs assistants for some of the routine tasks such as setting up and the like.
In a completely different vein he has shared his technique for building up a portrait entitled Roy. This was especially fascinating as I followed the progression but I confess to finding it hard to relate some of the mylar stencils to the prints shown below. It looks like the process is missing a few steps, but the overall impression is still evident.
The exhibit consists of 11 mylar stencils which have been transferred to handmade paper/pulp, and related progressive proofs with final image. The outcome demonstrates the amount of detail that can be achieved when using a multitude of masks/stencils which have been painstakingly planned in advance. Had I just seen the finished artwork I would never have appreciated the complex work involved – or that such precision can be produced from cut stencils.
The exhibition showcases his work, mainly portraiture, in many forms. The common thread is his vision of the world – one in which he sees objects dissected into very small individual units. These units are painted, printed or otherwise built up to produce the finished artwork in a pixellated format.
Above, left to right: Georgia 1982, pulp paper collage on canvas. Small globs of wet paper pulp were used to create this detailed collage of his daughter. Georgia grill 1984, brass shim. This is the matrix for the following 1984 handmade paper piece. Georgia 1984, handmade paper, air-dried.
Although these images are still divided into incremental shapes they differ from much of his other displayed works as the pieces are curved and irregular. Much of what was shown was based on works created using a grid like structure to define the coloured areas, but not these.
This is just a tiny portion of what was a huge and fascinating display of art pieces by Chuck Close.