Calligraphy of recalled squares – Clare Henry

When I first went to visit Chuck Close in his studio in 2004, I was in awe of him. But it was easy to talk to him, so it quickly faded. I had seen him at numerous openings for several years in New York. In his wheelchair, it was hard to miss him. I always thought – what courage. I had no idea at the time what health problems he had for much of his life.

I’m interested in the artificiality of notes and most of my notes are very abstract – Chuck Close

His studio in the East Village was also distinguished by a huge “easel” that moved up and down the floor, so he could easily move it to reach the small square in front of him that he was concentrating on. He always worked down to the smallest detail in a time-consuming manner so that a canvas could take a year. His subject was the portrait, always based on photographs of friends, never from life. He grid and transferred the photo via a conventional grid. The results were exciting, revolutionary, sensational.

Chuck Close ‘Phil’ (Philip Glass) 1969

He rose to fame in 1970 with a series of these monumental and fascinating 9-foot-tall hyperrealistic portraits, as the famous portrait of composer Philip Glass showed every pore and hair. Close admitted that Glass was to him “what the haystacks were to Monet” – variations on a theme. “I loved her Medusa curls.”

He said to me, “Basically I wanted to make an image that was big, aggressive, confrontational, stunning images with tiny little markings, images where the face becomes a kind of landscape where you stumble over a beard. . . “

In 1988, at the age of 48, Close suffered a spinal artery collapse that left much of her body paralyzed. Through rehabilitation, he regained his ability to paint using a brush holder device attached to his wrist and forearm. As someone commented after his death this week, “Chuck so heroically bounced back from his health crisis, I thought he was immortal.”

Close is often referred to as a realist, or even a super-realist. He didn’t like the term, because “I’m also interested in the artificiality of brands and most of my brands are very abstract. From the start, my little squares were always full of things – dots, stars, slashes, and lines. As the grid grew larger and more complex, each of these mosaic squares on their own was a miniature abstract painting in its own right. There is however a specificity to my calligraphy of squares, which is absent from abstraction.

His calligraphy included dazzling sunbeams of scribbled zeros and crosses, cheerful or donut-shaped hot dogs, “You can tell I’m still hungry,” he laughed to me. Yet when viewed from afar, those individual scribbles and pixelated donuts magically, miraculously, transform into a surprisingly lifelike face.

He was not a purist. “I’m going to switch horses halfway through to another medium if that makes a better picture. In the 1970s, he used monochrome but then switched to extravagant color. “I’ve always been back and forth. I really like black and white. I like things of a graphic nature and if I work in monochrome, when I go out, I see everything in shades of gray. But once I squeeze a tube of yellow or crimson, I realize again how great the festive color is.

In the 1980s, these pixelated and majestic heads were sometimes made in Japanese woodblock print, others in pulp – laborious, labor-intensive, demanding work. Digital was far away.

But, a passionate engraver all his life; in 2012, he used the technology through collaborations with experts. Over 10,000 of Close’s hand-painted marks were scanned into a computer, then digitally rearranged and overlaid by the artist using his signature grid. These works were Close’s first major foray into digital imagery. Close himself said: “It’s amazing how accurately a computer can work with light, color and water. “

In a 2014 interview, Close spoke about Joe Wilfer – who in 1983 helped me with my “New Scottish Prints” exhibition for Britain Salutes New York in New York. Close said, “I’ve had two great contributors in God knows how many years I’ve been making prints. One of them was the late Joe Wilfer. Now I work with Don Farnsworth at Magnolia Publishing House. These are the most important collaborations of my life as an artist.

Before, Close would make every mark, draw every line, himself. “I like to make all the decisions. Sometimes it is hard to believe that I made these prints without a computer program to digitize tones and values.

He believed in making old-fashioned art, a lot by hand. This philosophy came from her grandmother, who still knitted or crocheted. He liked to work in series. “It frees you from the artist blockage. I don’t wait for the clouds to part. Inspiration is for amateurs. ‘

The logistics of Close’s engraving were incredible. He’s big, the footprints are 12 feet long. Some portraits use 150 different serigraphs, while his 1988 black-and-white self-portrait required 6,800 squares of acid applied by hand. He often pushed techniques to the limit. “I’ve always been an artist looking for trouble,” he told me. The impressions made me move forward more than anything else. It’s too easy to keep walking painfully, cracking those suckers. Lazy thinking. It’s not good. But then I put stones in my shoes, ”he joked, referring to his disability.

Close was always happy to explain his processes, chronicle his failures, and admit his mistakes. He did so in his extensive 2004 retrospective at the Met Museum in New York City. “This exhibition also shows you how art is made. A lot of people don’t know.

“Painting is the perfect medium and photography is the perfect source because they have already translated the three dimensions into something flat. I can just affect the translation. Thus, he dissected the human faces of such figures as President Bill Clinton, Lou Reed, Cindy Sherman, Kiki Smith and – often – in self-portraits of himself.

There is an irony in Close’s photos of friends like Glass, Richard Serra, Alex Katz, Lucas Samaras, Nancy Graves. Close wanted anonymous people, so he chose his friends, but they all became famous! He also painted them directly, like a photo ID or photo ID. Why a life of portraits, I asked? “I care more about people than anything else. I want you to care about them and care about the picture. Why so many self-portraits? “We are all narcissists. But it shows that I can’t flatter others, but I don’t flatter myself either. “

In 2000, Close received the National Medal of the Arts from President Clinton. in 2010, he was appointed by Obama to the Presidential Committee on the Arts and Humanities, resigning in 2017 because ignoring “Trump’s hateful rhetoric would have made us complicit in your words and actions.” Recently, his 2,000 square foot mosaic was installed at Manhattan’s 86th Street subway station.

Chuck Close born in 1940, died August 19, 2021. He married twice and leaves two daughters.

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Postscript from Artlyst editor:

Chuck Close, best known for his ruthless portrayals, has been the subject of recent allegations of misconduct by a number of women who have accused him of sexually harassing them when they came to his studio to pose as models. Close apologized for any inappropriate comments about the female body and for the invasive questions. None had alleged physical assault.

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