Modern Design with – Chuck Close

Chuck Close is renown for his large portraits; mosaic compositions made up of hundreds of squares, each a small painting on its own. Up close they are an engaging but indecipherable abstract of color and form, but back away and a strikingly realistic, almost photographic image appears. Bold yet intimate, his technique blurs the line between painting and photography. Working from a photograph sectioned into grids the artist found a way to compose a bit at a time – rather than looking at the whole face.

Because for Mr. Close faces are a problem, “Everything in my work is a direct outgrowth of my learning disabilities. I never recognized anybody. I didn’t even recognize the woman I lived with for a year, two years later.”  He has prosopagnosia, or face blindness, along with reading and mathematical disabilities. “I was so learning-disabled and any of you who were alive in the forties and fifties know that there was no such thing as dyslexia in the forties and fifties. You were just dumb and lazy. So I was not academic.”

Growing up he was a puppeteer, magician, and showed artistic talents, which were encouraged by teachers and his parents who were artists. At the age of 14 he was determined to become an artist after seeing the work of Jackson Pollack. He thought of de Kooning as a hero and early on devoted himself to abstract expressionism. But by the mid-sixties he felt he needed to break away.

“I threw away all the materials I had, all the brushes. I was told I had a good sense of color, which meant I’d learned that certain color combinations looked more like ‘art’ than other color combinations. I was told I had a good hand, which means my hand made ‘art’ shapes. But they were de Kooning shapes, or they were Gorky shapes, or they were something else. “

“So I decided to work from photographs so that I had something very specific to do with my hand ... and I wanted to rip it loose from the way we normally see things in a photograph and make it much bigger.” Close is particularly known for his self-portraits as well as those of other artists, such as Robert Rauschenberg, Cindy Sherman, and Richard Serra, and of actors and directors.

Close, now 74, became partially paralyzed after the sudden rupture of a spinal artery in 1988. After much physical therapy he regained the partial use of his arms but remains in a wheelchair. Undaunted, and with enthusiasm, Close has continued to paint with a brush taped to his hand, participate in panels, interviews, and films about his work.