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Chuck Close: Self-Portraits 1967-2005

November 19, 2005 - February 28, 2006


(above: Chuck Close, Self-Portrait Maquette, 1975, black-and-white Polaroid photograph, graphite, masking tape, plastic overlay; 4 x 5 inches. Private collection, New York; © Chuck Close)


This fall the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) is presenting Chuck Close: Self-Portraits 1967-2005, on view from November 19, 2005, through February 28, 2006. Produced in partnership with the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, the exhibition was organized by Madeleine Grynsztejn, Elise S. Haas Senior Curator of Painting and Sculpture at SFMOMA, and Siri Engberg, curator of visual arts at the Walker. The survey focuses exclusively on the artist's self-portraits, consisting of more than eighty works in a broad range of media-painting, drawing, photography, collage, and printmaking-that trace the evolution of his process and self-examination from 1967 to the present. (right: Chuck Close, Self-Portrait, 1987, oil on canvas; 72 x 60 inches. Private collection; courtesy Pace Wildenstein, New York; © Chuck Close)

Through nearly four decades of "isms" and art movements, Close has remained committed to rigorous experimentation within a carefully defined practice, using his own image more than any other as subject matter. In examining this focused body of his work, Chuck Close: Self-Portraits 1967-2005 highlights how an artist can create a remarkable pictorial language that continues to expand and develop over a lifetime. Celebrated as one of the most influential painters of our time, Close has retained his vitality by continuously reinventing portraiture, a genre often underrecognized in contemporary art.  

Notes Grynsztejn, "Close is an artist whose vision was forged early on in a full-fledged synthesis of minimalist, conceptual, and process art practices, combined with an unapologetic image-making that has placed him at the center of vanguard art production since the mid-1960s. By zeroing in on Close's own image, this exhibition presents a physiological record of a distinct human being as he changes through the years, from artwork to artwork, providing a universal entry into his oeuvre. As singular as Close's features are, we nonetheless see them on a continuum with our own faces, and part of the power of these works comes from the recognition that our shared visages are given a respectful and even monumental force."

The exhibition progresses in loosely chronological order and is framed by two major paintings separated by some thirty-three years: the Walker's monumental black-and-white Big Self-Portrait (1967-68) -- the artist's first -- and SFMOMA's recent Self-Portrait (2000-01), a contemporary image painted as a mosaic of dazzling color and the only self-portrait painted on the scale of the 1968 canvas. Throughout the exhibition paintings will be paired with maquettes, and, in some cases, a series of works will be gathered together with the single maquette at its origin. As the viewer moves through the galleries, biographical time unfolds and the artist's physical maturation is revealed in tandem with his artistic development. The final gallery highlights a suite of recent prints given to SFMOMA by the artist.

Born in Monroe, Washington, in 1940, Close attended the University of Washington in Seattle. From 1962 to 1964, he continued his education at the Yale University School of Art and Architecture, where he studied alongside a talented group of fellow artists including Nancy Graves, Robert Mangold, Brice Marden, and Richard Serra. His paintings at the time were influenced by the work of Arshile Gorky and Willem de Kooning, but he remained dissatisfied with abstraction's open-endedness. While in school, he traveled regularly to New York, became enthusiastic about Pop art, and began to feel an urgency about pushing his work in a new direction.

By 1967, Close had moved to New York City and abandoned the abstract work of his school years to begin painting from photographs. "I wanted something very specific to do, where there were rights and wrongs," he has remarked, "and so I decided to just use whatever happened in the photograph. Whatever shapes were there I would have to use . . . I was constructing a series of self-imposed limitations that would guarantee that I could no longer make what I had been making." The resulting cross-pollination between painting and photography would prove particularly fruitful and long-standing.

In 1968, Close completed the watershed painting Big Self-Portrait, his first self-portrait and the first of a group of eight black­and-white "heads," as he refers to them, that include portraits of fellow artists Nancy Graves, Richard Serra, Joe Zucker, and the composer Philip Glass. Monumental in scale, at nine by seven feet, Big Self-Portrait is made from only a few tablespoons of water-based pigment, applied thinly so as to imitate the slick surface of its photographic source. This series of black-and-white paintings brought Close instant recognition as an artist and set the course for a working method he continues to use today.

Always starting with a photograph as the basis for his imagery, Close first produces a maquette, comprising a photograph overlaid with a grid template. He then systematically transposes the image to another surface-canvas, drawing paper, a printing plate, or a paper pulp collage-square by square. Thus, while the work always derives from photography, it is reinvested with the human touch present in the application method. Though his practice is well-defined, it is far from rigid: For each work he makes, Close consistently "alter[s] the variables." Whether he fills each square with delicately airbrushed pigment, dots of pastel, inked fingerprints, etched lines, or organic brushstrokes in vibrant color, he continues "to find things in the rectangle and slowly sneak up on what I want . . . to make it all happen in the rectangle instead of on the palette and in context." Close has used this method to produce works ranging from large-scale paintings to intimate drawings to elaborate paper-pulp constructions. In addition, he is a master printmaker who has worked with etching, woodcut, linoleum block printing, and screen printing. Examples of all Close's techniques are included in Chuck Close: Self-Portraits 1967-2005.

As cross-references between painting and photography have increased in Close's work, his paintings have become truly hybrid objects that merge manual and mechanical processes. They also function as explorations of the mutable boundaries between the personal and the social, the unique and the standardized. Close pushes these borders when he creates a self-portrait in the intentional likeness of a passport photo or a criminal mug shot-photographs intended for public rather than private use-which in turn raises questions about the construction of selfhood in a world that constantly impersonalizes.

Close also has been an innovator in the arena of photography, and this exhibition will contain numerous examples of his photographic self-portraits. One of the first artists to experiment with large-format Polaroids, he has created many portraits in the medium, including multipart photo-collages. In recent years, he also has embraced the nineteenth-century daguerreotype technique, which he has used to create a broad range of portraits with an exceptionally contemporary quality.

Beginning in 1988, Close faced new personal and artistic challenges after suffering a collapsed spinal artery that initially left him paralyzed from the neck down. With time and tenacity, his condition improved, and, though dependent on a wheelchair, he was able to begin painting again using a customized brace. The self-portraits made following this event became more gestural and continued Close's explorations into the use of a bold, unexpected color palette. In these works, Close has revealed himself to be a highly intuitive colorist, whose paintings have been connected to many art historical precedents, including the Byzantine mosaics of Ravenna and the paintings of Gustav Klimt.

Evident throughout Close's entire oeuvre is a deliberate balancing of the contradictory: the subjective and the systematic; the mechanical and the handmade; the parts and the whole; or the distinct material reality of the painted mark versus the representational coherency of the image.

Chuck Close: Self-Portraits 1967-2005 will be accompanied by a richly illustrated catalogue of the same title that documents this particular body of Close's work in detail and across media. The catalogue includes essays by Siri Engberg, Madeleine Grynsztejn, and Douglas R. Nickel, director of the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona, Tucson.

In conjunction with the exhibition's opening at SFMOMA, the Museum's Education Department will present an artist talk with Chuck Close on Saturday, November 19, 2005. Ticket information and additional program details will be available at a later date on the Museum's Web site at www.sfmoma.org.


Tour Schedule


National sponsorship of Chuck Close: Self-Portraits 1967­2005 is made possible by the global financial services firm UBS.. Additional support for the exhibition is provided by the Evelyn D. Haas Exhibition Fund, the National Endowment for the Arts, and Margaret and Angus Wurtele.


Wall texts from the exhibition


One of the most influential artists of our time, Chuck Close has remained a vital presence by continuously reinventing portraiture. Since the 1960s he has depicted friends, family, fellow artists, and himself. This exhibition focuses exclusively on his self-portraits -- including paintings, drawings, photographs, and prints -- as a means to examine his pictorial language over nearly four decades.

Born in Monroe, Washington, in 1940, Close studied art in the early 1960s at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, where he showed skill in abstract painting. He was nagged, however, by the sense that he was painting "what art should look like." By 1967 he had moved to New York, abandoned abstraction, and begun to work from photographs. His first self-portrait was one of a group of eight colossal black-and-white "heads" that included portraits of the artist Richard Serra and the composer Philip Glass. These arresting canvases brought him instant recognition and established a working method that he still uses today.

To make his large-scale portraits, Close first selects a photograph and overlays it with a grid. He then transposes the image square by square to another surface-be it canvas, paper, or printing plate. When filling in his grids, he builds the final likeness through marks that can include dots of pigment, inked fingerprints, etched lines, or vibrant brushstrokes. He is also an innovator in the arena of Polaroid photography, and in recent years he has adopted the nineteenth-century daguerreotype technique.

In 1988 Close faced personal and artistic challenges after suffering a collapsed spinal artery that initially left him paralyzed from the neck down. His condition improved with time, and, though dependent on a wheelchair, he was able to paint again with a customized brace. His self-portraits since the 1990s demonstrate his continued use of unexpected gesture and a bold color palette. At the same time, he has become fluent in more artistic media than ever before.

Evident throughout his practice is a deliberate balancing of the contradictory: the subjective and the systematic, the mechanical and the handmade, the part and the whole. With the self-portraits, Close invites us to witness the startling and expansive possibilities hidden in a familiar image.

Madeleine Grynsztejn
Elise S. Haas Senior Curator of Painting and Sculpture
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
Siri Engberg
Curator of Visual Arts
Walker Art Center


"Initially I wanted to make big, aggressive, confrontational images. I chose to portray myself as the angry young man . . ."

-Chuck Close

In 1967, after shooting photographs for a painting he was working on, a young Close decided to use up his leftover film by posing for his own camera. The resulting contact sheet demonstrates an unpracticed effort: While aiming for a straight-on head shot, the artist inadvertently held the camera at a slightly lower angle, tilting it upward. When transposed to works in other media, such as the painting Big Self-Portrait (1967-68), his head looms over the lens-turned-observer, exerting a pressuring presence -- a vantage point Close would abandon in his later projects.

To create Big Self-Portrait, his first painting to portray his own image, Close took up the airbrush, a decisively nonart tool. Like his Minimalist peers, he banished painterly gesture to develop a more dispassionate style. In addition to its arresting scale, Big Self-Portrait is all the more impressive for being made from just a few tablespoons of water-based pigment, applied as thinly as possible so as to echo the smooth surface of the photographic original.

The 1967 photo session resulted in source images not only for that painting, but also for a richly varied group of drawings and maquettes (the gridded photographic studies Close uses to plan his larger works) made over the following fifteen years. One of the first, a drawing from 1968, is striking in its means of execution: Airy, painstakingly rendered pencil marks reveal every wrinkle, pore, and whisker. A later work, made in charcoal, has the immediacy of a sketchbook drawing.

The daguerreotype is a relic from the dawn of photography-and a rather unlikely format to be revived by a contemporary artist. But Close uses this antiquated medium to explore new forms of visual experience. A daguerreotype is a photographic image produced on a plate of silver or silver-covered copper. It is formed from a long exposure, which results in a highly detailed image. When it was first introduced in 1839, viewers were astonished by its clarity and definition. Because of their susceptibility to abrasion, most daguerreotypes were enclosed in special cases like those on view here.

If Close's paintings, with their seemingly pixelated surfaces, dissolve detail and test our ability to recognize the familiar, his daguerreotypes embrace hyperdetail and hyperacuity, tweaking these aspects of photography to the point of distortion. While this process might seem to be the opposite of painting in its direct and unmediated production of an image and the elimination of the artist's "touch," under Close's administration it offers unexpected opportunities for artistic expression. To emphasize this point, he presents us with effigies of the front and back of his own hand-the classic emblem of labor, the organ made obsolete by photography-and calls them self-portraits.


"When I do a portrait, I'm trying to present it flat-footedly, without editorial comment."

-Chuck Close

Close's paintings are truly hybrid objects merging photography and painting. Often tightly framed, frontal, and black-and-white, his painted self-portraits maintain a fidelity to the "flat-footed" appearance of their source photographs. The artist frequently composes his own features in deliberate imitation of bureaucratic pictures such as those found on passports, driver's licenses, or police mug shots. His self-portraits thus consider the fragile and porous boundaries between the individual and the standardized.

Close's Self-Portrait I and Self-Portrait II (1995), made not long after the Internet became commonplace, exhibit a being who, like each of us, inhabits a space between concrete reality and an increasingly anonymous virtual realm. Though his "handmade pixels" predate the low-resolution computer images they resemble, these painted bits and fractals spark associations with the digital world. Even as Close derives his work from photography and makes allusions to electronic technology, he invests his pictures with the sense of human touch that is always present in the application of paint to canvas.


"It's only through the particular, personal manipulations of these basic units that you can build a transcendent experience that becomes greater than the sum of its parts."

-Chuck Close

Since the early 1990s, the grids in Close's works have grown bolder and the squares larger. The tiny dots that made up his earlier color paintings have evolved into a more diverse array of abstract shapes -- circles, ovoids, boomerangs, and zooids -- that animate their individual cells and at times even break out of their own squares to invade neighboring ones.

The artist's current painting process starts when he applies an arbitrary color to a primed canvas. On top of this underpainting, he draws a pencil grid to correspond with the grid on his source photograph. Working from the upper left to the bottom right corner, he applies dabs of colors to the squares in differing shapes, constantly making adjustments so that each individual unit forms a coherent flow with adjoining ones. When the canvas reaches a certain uniform consistency, Close turns it to the wall for a while. He later returns to it to look for "any anomaly [that] threatens the particular balance of parts to whole that makes [the] painting's integrity."

Close first adopted the Polaroid for his maquettes in the late 1970s because of its capacity for immediate feedback. His excitement about the medium was evident: "Working with traditional cameras, I never knew what I had until the film was processed, so I tended to shoot essentially the same photograph over and over again to ensure that I would get at least one usable image. But with the Polaroids, I could instantly see my results, and if I got a good shot the first time, there was no sense in making a duplicate."

In 1979 the artist was invited to experiment with the Polaroid Corporation's new large-format camera, which could produce twenty-by-twenty-four-inch instant color prints. Originally developed to reproduce works of art with high accuracy, it made images that were of great interest to Close: large in scale, vibrantly colored, and with extremely fine resolution. "It was the first time I considered myself a photographer," he says.

As he does in all media, Close pushes the boundaries of formal possibility with the large-format camera, reconstituting and remaking his changing visage, sometimes with uncanny results. His Polaroid self-portraits have taken the form of multipart works in addition to straightforward single panels. The nine- and sixteen-piece composite works on view in this gallery show how such arrangements can bring a new and interesting sense of structure to bear upon photography. While the grid operates here in fundamentally the same way as in his paintings, drawings, and prints, the individual panels do not line up seamlessly and thus produce intriguing distortions.

In his work since the mid-1990s Close has revealed himself to be a particularly intuitive colorist whose canvases have been likened to Byzantine mosaics and the paintings of Gustav Klimt. The unexpected acid yellows, candy-colored pinks and greens, delicate lavenders, and other calligraphic strokes of color amass across their surfaces as watery pixels-curiously abstract at close range and strikingly real from afar, as our eyes absorb the whole of the image and the artificial hues resolve into flesh, hair, and facial features.

This gallery contains Close's most recent self-portraits. One of these, Self-Portrait (2000-2001), is the only other painting of himself made on the same scale as his 1968 Big Self-Portrait. These two colossal canvases offer a pair of "snapshots" in time that evidence an artist's self-examination over the course of nearly forty years.


"A photograph is something you can always go back to and check to make sure you saw what you thought you saw. When I've changed working methodology or process, or material or approach, it's sort of interesting to see what happens pumping that image through another approach. . . . In having something stay constant, you get to see how important other changes are."

-Chuck Close

In the late 1970s and early 1980s Close began an inventive and prolific period of working on paper. Many of his pieces from this time are based on the same maquette: a quirky, five-by-four-inch photograph from 1975 that engendered a constellation of self-portraits. He has rendered the image in versions both unique and editioned, including drawings, prints, and intricate paper-pulp constructions. Close often characterizes strains of his work as "core samples" -- related pieces that radiate from a single photographic source. Again and again he has returned to this particular self-portrait, in which he appears balding and rather blank-faced behind thick, reflective glasses. He last revisited it as recently as 1997.

When asked why he elects to circle back occasionally to this early image, the artist points to the need for a familiar visual (his own face being the most readily accessible) at a moment when he may be exploring a new technique or material. Taking a known entity through experimental paces allows him to apprehend more clearly -- and also to fine-tune -- the impact of a novel means of production. Yet this habit of calling up his younger, scruffier self can't help but evoke a certain poignancy; the recurring presence of a youthful Close, in contrast with a progressively older and ever more sober one, warps our sense of time, making us keenly aware of issues surrounding aging and mortality.

The source photograph (1976­77) for Close's large Self-Portrait/Watercolor (also 1976-77, on view in the adjacent gallery) generated a rich group of works in 1977, including his first self-portrait print (an etching of diagonal crosshatched marks in tightly packed squares) and a series of related ink drawings, among them Self-Portrait/Dot, Self-Portrait/6x1, and Self-Portrait/8x1 (the formulas refer to squares per inch). He also made his first pastel self-portrait that year, reestablishing an intimate connection between his hand, the medium, and the paper that had not been possible with an airbrush. Perhaps the most intimate variation on the source photograph is a 1980 self-portrait made by transferring stamp-pad ink directly onto paper with his fingertips. About this experimental method Close remarked, "I could feel how much [ink] I'd picked up by how much pressure I was putting on my finger and the viscosity of the ink. . . . I could press lightly, press harder, or rotate my finger."


Extended object labels

hard-ground etching and aquatint on paper, t.p. 1/20, ed. of 35
Printed and published by Crown Point Press, San Francisco
Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, gift of Joe Zucker, 1980
This print was Close's first self-portrait made using a technique called etching. In this process, a metal printing plate is covered with acid-resistant powder, or "ground," onto which the artist draws or scratches an image with a needle. (The hard ground used in this print contains asphaltum, beeswax, and rosin.) The plate is then immersed in an acid bath, which eats away at, or etches, the uncovered areas, creating recessions that hold ink. In the final step, the plate is inked and pressed to paper.
S.P. I
linoleum cut on paper, a.p. 20/20, ed. of 70
Printed by Spring Street Workshop, New York; published by Pace Editions Inc., New York
Courtesy the artist and Pace Editions Inc., New York
This print was made using a linoleum cut, a relief printing technique where the artist carves the negative areas of an image into a piece of soft, smooth linoleum, which is usually mounted on wood. The raised surface that is left behind after the cutting process is then inked and pressed to paper.
photogravure, ed. 3/35
Printed and published by Graphicstudio, University of South Florida, Tampa
Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, T. B. Walker Acquisition Fund, 2005
To create a photogravure, a tissue is coated on one side with light-sensitive gelatin, placed in contact with a photographic image, and exposed to light, causing the gelatin to harden in the exposed areas. The tissue is then transferred, gelatin-side down, onto a metal printing plate. The tissue and any unhardened gelatin remaining in unexposed areas are washed away with warm water. The plate is then placed in an acid bath, which etches the areas where the gelatin is thin or absent. The etched areas hold varying amounts of ink in proportion to the density of the image, and a printing press transfers the ink from the plate to paper. Photogravures are valued for their high contrast and rich areas of black.
handmade paper pulp, ed. 21/25
Printed by Joe Wilfer, New York; published by Pace Editions Inc., New York
Collection of Mrs. Julius E. Davis, Minneapolis
A small 1975 maquette inspired a notable series of works in the early 1980s in which Close explored the medium of paper pulp. Collaborating with the master papermaker Joe Wilfer, he devised a system of dyeing wet pulp in grays of various values. He then applied the pulp in paint-by-numbers style to a paper base sheet, using a coded plastic grille that corresponded to his maquette. When the pulp was dried and pressed, its gridded formation became this intricate construction. This and related works by Close have been widely heralded as landmark contributions to the art of handmade paper.
spitbite aquatint on paper, ed. 44/50
Printed by Aldo Crommelynck, New York; published by Pace Editions Inc., New York
Courtesy the artist and Pace Editions Inc., New York
To make an aquatint, the artist covers a metal plate with a porous, acid-resistant powder and then applies varnish or tar to the areas that should not be etched. When the plate is immersed in an acid bath, the acid etches around the tiny grains of exposed powder, creating recessions that hold ink. By varying the length of time for which certain parts of the plate are bathed in acid, the artist and printer can control the depth of the etching in particular areas.
To make this spitbite aquatint, which is based on his 1975 maquette, Close adapted the process somewhat, brushing his image onto the plate using a combination of nitric acid and water or saliva. This additional acid deepened the etching in certain areas, and his use of a brush gave the lines a softer, more watery appearance, allowing for more nuanced grays.
Self-Portrait/Spitbite/White on Black
spitbite aquatint on paper, a.p. 1/10, ed. of 50
Printed by Spring Street Workshop, New York; published by Pace Editions Inc., New York
Courtesy the artist and Pace Editions Inc., New York
Close admires the soft edge that results from the spitbite aquatint process-particularly the way the prints can be made to resemble his early airbrush drawings. Using the same palette of grays as in his paper-pulp works, this piece achieves a precise interplay of lights and darks that closely translates the artist's original image to print.
Small Self-Portrait
relief print on Japanese Okawar paper, ed. 69/75
Printed and published by Two Palms Press, New York
Courtesy Two Palms Press, New York
In relief printing, the reverse of an image is carved or etched into a wooden block or some other flat substrate. When the block is inked, the pigment adheres only to the raised areas and is then transferred to paper. Relief printing techniques include the woodcut, the linoleum cut, and the letterpress.
111-color screen print on paper, Walker proof, ed. of 80
Printed by Brand X Editions, New York; published by Pace Editions Inc., New York
Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, gift of the artist, 2000
To make this screen print, Close placed a stencil on top of a fine screen (historically artists have used silk), which he placed in turn on top of a piece of paper. He then pushed ink through the screen onto the paper with a squeegee. A screen print can have a hard-edged quality caused by the crisp form of the stencil. Close has used the technique to great effect in recent self-portraits.
Self-Portrait/Scribble/Etching Portfolio
boxed set of nine one-color state proofs and nine progressive proofs, a.p. 3/4
Printed by Pace Editions Ink, New York; published by Pace Editions Inc., New York
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, gift of the artist, 2002.43
Unlike most of Close's grid-based prints, these scribble etchings are created through the layering of freehand, doodlelike marks. Projecting a photographic slide onto paper that has been placed over an etching plate, Close makes his marks on the paper, and the pressure of his pencil scrapes the ground off the plate. When the plate is submerged in acid, those exposed areas are etched.
Here, each iteration presents a single-color likeness of the artist, ranging from a loose, abstract sketch to a denser, more fully modeled face. While most artists exhibit only a single, final print, Close has included etchings from each stage of this composite piece. It reminds us that he came of age amid the minimalist and process-art practices of the 1960s, when experimentation and the exposure of one's working methods were valued as much as the finished object.
nineteen-color hand-printed ukiyo-e woodcut, p.p. 1/9, ed. of 50
Printed and published by Two Palms Press, New York
Courtesy Two Palms Press, New York
This print was made with the classic Japanese wood-block method known as ukiyo-e, historically used for producing large quantities of popular images. Many individual blocks are carved and then fitted together to form the printing surface, and impressions are made by placing paper on top of the plate and rubbing by hand. Water-based inks create delicate, translucent colors that are similar in effect to watercolor.
eleven-color handmade paper pulp print, a.p. 7/8, ed. of 35
Printed by Dieu Donné Papermill and Pace Editions Ink, New York; published by Pace Editions Inc., New York
Courtesy the artist and Pace Editions Inc., New York
Dispensing with the more rigid, gridded system he used for his paper-pulp works in the 1980s, Close progressively built up the pulp in this 2001 self-portrait from a loose, camouflagelike pattern of broad tones to an increasingly intricate, almost pointillist composition. The stippled pulp ranges from light to dark in eleven different values of gray, producing a lush, sparkling surface evocative of dappled light.
oil on canvas
High Museum of Art, Atlanta, purchase with funds from Alfred Austell Thornton in memory of Leila Austell Thornton and Albert Edward Thornton Sr. and Sarah Miller Venable and William Hoyt Venable and High Museum of Art Enhancement Fund
Perhaps the most hallucinatory and dematerialized self-portrait Close has made to date, this painting is the first in which the artist used a daguerreotype as his source image. Rendered in velvety blacks and luminous grays, the image seems to hover just behind the physical picture plane of the canvas, echoing the strange effect of floating depth that characterizes daguerreotypes.
Self-Portrait/Composite/Six Parts
color Polaroid photographs
Private collection, New York
watercolor on paper mounted on canvas
MUMOK, Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig, Vienna
This is Close's second self-portrait painting. He had begun experimenting with watercolors in the early 1970s in order to move away from the predominantly black-and-white palette of his earliest work. This piece retains the monochromatic appearance of Big Self-Portrait (made a decade before) and also utilizes the earlier painting's airbrush technique, but Close has replaced the intimidating, slightly upturned head with a more neutral, psychologically ambiguous pose.
ink and pencil on paper mounted on canvas
Bill Bass Estate, Chicago
The medium of drawing, which many painters treat strictly as a small-scale preparatory medium, has in Close's oeuvre lent itself to pieces, such as this one, that rival his large painted canvases in size. Here, however, he stretches the traditional definition of drawing with his "dot" method, in which he applies the ink with an airbrush and makes a separate, individual dot in each square of a gridded piece of paper. The dots appealed to Close at this time as a way to perturb the photographic veracity and smoothness of his earlier works, which critics and curators had often labeled (to his dissatisfaction) "photorealistic." Close achieved the overall composition of Self-Portrait/58,424, his first dot-drawn self-portrait, by controlling the density of each square in the grid. The title refers to the total number of dots that make up the image.
oil on canvas
Collection of David Smith
Close started using color in his paintings in the early 1970s, but it was not until 1986, with this work, that he utilized it in a self-portrait. This canvas represented an important new step in what had already been a rich and varied series of experiments in self-portraiture, moving through all sorts of media (watercolor, pastel, ink, pencil) and a wide range of print techniques. When he took up pastels in the 1970s, his excitement at returning to "physically manipulating the material and making real contact with the surface," combined with the full spectrum of delicate hues at his fingertips, prompted him to take up colored oil paint once again, which led in turn to such works as this painting with its soft, pastel-like palette.
Self-Portrait Maquette
gelatin silver print, pencil, and masking tape
Private collection, New York
This maquette was a key source image for the series of works on paper featured in this gallery. It was damaged a few years ago when the basement of Close's studio flooded; the erosion is visible in the upper portion of the photograph.

Editor's note: Readers may also find of interest:

and from other websites:

Chuck Close in an 80 minute conversation with Jeffrey Weiss, curator of twentieth-century art, National Gallery of Art's Diamonstein-Spielvogel Lecture Series

From Charlie Rose: Charlie Rose - An hour with Chuck Close [56:41]

Philocetes Center presents a discussion with Chuck Close, Vincent Katz, and Matthew von Unwerth about the film "Chuck Close," directed by Marion Cajori. [32:40]

editor's notes rev. 8/10/11

Read more articles and essays concerning this source by visiting the sub-index page for the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in Resource Library.

TFAO also suggests these DVD or VHS videos:

Chuck Close, a 48-minute 1980 Chuck Close interview, re-edited in 2004, from the Video Data Bank, a resource for videotapes by and about contemporary artists.
Chuck Close: A Portrait in Progress. The world of contemporary artist Chuck Close is explored in this WNET/Thirteen 57 minute Marion Cajori 1998 behind-the-scenes look at his life and work. Traces the evolution of painter Chuck Close from his first series of black and white heads -- exhibited in 1969. Documents his recovery from a 1988 spinal injury and shows his acheivements since the injury. Follows Close into the contemporary art community of New York where he encounters Leslie Close, Philip Glass, Mark Greenwood, Alex Katz, Dorothea Rockburne, Kiki Smith and Robert Storr From MUSE Film and Television. Also available as a DVD.
Chuck Close: Close Up is a 28 minute L&S video created and produced by Linda Freeman and written and directed by David Irving. Chuck Close paints oversized, closely cropped images. "As an artist I am interested in the face," says Close. Working from photographs and employing a grid system, he transfers these images to giant canvases. Partially paralyzed and with learning disabilities, Chuck Close's story is one of motivation and determination. He is a great American Artist who continually reinvents himself. 
Chuck Close: Eye to Eye is a look at the extraordinary career of Chuck Close, who has spent thirty years creating fascinating portraits of his family and friends. This 1998 video includes a 35 minute visit with Close in his studio as he works on a portrait of Robert Rauschenberg, as well as interviews with such notable contemporaries as Janet Fish, April Gornik and Kent Floeter.

TFAO does not maintain a lending library of videos or sell videos. Click here for information on how to borrow or purchase copies of VHS videos and DVDs listed in TFAO's Videos -DVD/VHS, an authoritative guide to videos in VHS and DVD format.

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