Editor's note: The following essay was reprinted in Resource Library on June 13, 2005 with the permission of the author, the Blaffer Gallery, the Art Museum of the University of Houston, and Princeton University Press. If you have questions or comments regarding the essay, or wish to obtain a copy of the catalogue from which it is excerpted, please contact the Blaffer Gallery directly through either this phone number or web address:


Chuck Close Prints

by Terrie Sultan


Chuck Close has developed a strategy for mapping the world in a system of visual metaphors. His paintings, photographs, and prints mark an intersection between representation and abstraction that is simultaneously of the moment and timeless. Close makes his paintings through a rigorous process of creating and editing a series of abstract marks that coalesce into a coherent representational image. He has often described his artistic methodology as a series of corrections, sometimes evoking the metaphor of a golf game, in which players move from the general to the specific, starting with the biggest, broadest stroke and refining their activities incrementally until they reach the ultimate goal. That metaphor grew out of Close's engagement with the art of printmaking, and it reinforces how he builds his images layer by layer. The imposed order and extremely precise practices inherent in traditional printmaking allow him to translate the language of paintings into another idiom, with shades and nuances conveyed through an entirely different set of notations.[l] Early in life Close developed systems to help him with his difficulties memorizing school lessons. Similar processes of systematization, developed and reinforced through his love of printmaking, have become the basis of his studio practice. "Virtually everything that has happened in my unique work," he asserts, "can be traced back to the prints."[2]

Close's paintings are labor-intensive and time-consuming, and his prints are more so. While a painting can occupy Close for many months, it is not unusual for one print to take more than two years to complete, from conception to final edition. And with few exceptions -- separating the Mylars for silk screens or carving the woodblocks -- Close insists on a decidedly interactive approach to the creation of his prints. He carves linoleum blocks, draws on and applies acid to his etching plates, and personally directs all the intricate handwork involved in pulp-paper multiples. He also revels in his collaborations with master printers: "Like any corporation, I have the benefit of the brainpower of everyone who is working for me. It all ends up being my work, the corporate me, but everyone extends ideas and comes up with suggestions. It is a very different attitude than coming into an atelier, drawing on a plate, and giving it over to printers to edition. My prints have been truly collaborative, even though control is something that I give up reluctantly."

The relationship between Close and the master printers is key to the success of his prints. But it is only part of the story of this collaboration. The other essential element is the role of the publishers who, Close emphasizes, "put their money and their faith up front." In this regard, Close has been fortunate in working with visionaries who place their trust in what is essentially an unknown outcome. The early prints were published by Robert Feldman of Parasol Press, Ltd., and Kathan Brown of Crown Point Press. Since the late 1970s, almost all of Close's prints have been published under the auspices of Richard Solomon at Pace Editions, Inc., in New York.


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