Chuck Close

Chuck Close

American Painter and Photographer

Born: July 5, 1940 - Monroe, Washington
"I'm pre-pixel. They got it from me."
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Chuck Close Signature
"I realized that to deal with your nature is also to construct a series of limitations which just don't allow you to behave the way you most naturally want to behave. So, I found it incredibly liberating to work for a long time on something even though I'm impatient. It did not seem like such a dichotomy or a denial of who I was. It seemed like I was taking care of who I was."
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"Photography is the easiest medium with which to be merely competent. Almost anybody can be competent. It's the hardest medium in which to have some sort of personal vision and to have a signature style."
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"I think I was driven to paint portraits to commit images of friends and family to memory. I have face blindness, and once a face is flattened out, I can remember it better."
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"Always the best time to paint is when people decide that painting is dead because the traditions and conventions are up for grabs."
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"I always thought that inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work. You sign onto a process and see where it takes you."
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"What difference does it make whether you're looking at a photograph or looking at a still life in front of you? You still have to look."
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"You don't have to reinvent the wheel every day. Today you will do what you did yesterday, and tomorrow you will do what you did today. Eventually you will get somewhere."
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"A photograph doesn't gain weight or lose weight, or change from being happy to being sad. It's frozen. You can use it, then recycle it."
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"Ease is the enemy of the artist. When things get too easy, you're in trouble."
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"A face is a road map of someone's life. Without any need to amplify that or draw attention to it, there's a great deal that's communicated about who this person is and what their life experiences have been."
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Summary of Chuck Close

Chuck Close is globally renowned for reinvigorating the art of portrait painting from the late 1960s to the present day, an era when photography had been challenging painting's former dominance in this area, and succeeding in steadily gaining critical appreciation as an artistic medium in its own right. Close emerged from the 1970s painting movement of Photorealism, also known as Super-Realism, but then moved well beyond its initially hyper-attentive rendering of a given subject to explore how methodical, system-driven portrait painting based on photography's underlying processes (over its superficial visual appearances) could suggest a wide range of artistic and philosophical concepts. In addition, Close's personal struggles with dyslexia and subsequently, partial paralysis, have suggested real-life parallels to his professional discipline, as though his methodical and yet also quite intuitive methods of painting are inseparable from his own daily reckoning with the body's own vulnerable, material condition.


  • Photorealist painting of the 1970s celebrated the glossy, mirror-like "look" of the photograph, but after achieving that ideal, Close swiftly turned to portraiture, suggesting it as a means for exploring unsettling aspects of how self identity is always a composite and highly constructed, if not ultimately conflicted fiction.
  • Close's dependence on the grid as a metaphor for his analytical processes, which suggest that the "whole" is rarely more (or less) than the sum of its parts, is a conceptual equivalent for the camera's analytical, serial approach to any given subject. Every street-smart, colorful Polaroid is as much a time-based and fragmentary gesture as any more laborious stroke of the painter's brush in the cloistered studio.
  • Close has worked with oil and acrylic painting, photography, mezzotint printing, and various additional media. Shifting confidently from one to the other, Close suggests that his conceptual intentions are ultimately timeless, whereas his tools or materials are infinitely interchangeable. This is partly why Close's practice of portrait painting has for over forty years remained surprisingly "contemporary," even while the larger movement of Photorealism, his earliest chosen stylistic idiom, has long receded into history.
  • Close's slow, accumulative processes, which enlist numerous abstract color applications in the service of producing "realistic," or illusory portraits, most recently finds application in the art of modern tapestry via a highly illusionistic, computer-aided method of industrial weaving that Close favors for its ability to suggest the hyper-real appearance of 19th century glass photographs(daguerreotypes).

Biography of Chuck Close

Chuck Close, self-portrait (2016). Ceramic tile at the 86th's Street Subway Station in New York City

Describing how, "I discovered about 150 dots is the minimum number of dots to make a specific recognizable person," Chuck Close pioneered Photorealism. "By putting little marks together," he said his monumental portraits conveyed how, "a face is a road map of someone's life."

Important Art by Chuck Close

Progression of Art

Big Nude

"Big Nude" is the first painting completed in Close's signature grid process, and both its size and self-conscious title indicate its ambitious nature. Although the transferred image "reads" as a flat transcription of light and dark characteristic of a photograph, the painting's variegated brushstrokes reveal Big Nude to be more of a prototype for future development than a fully resolved picture. Poised precariously between a common studio exercise in figure drawing and a 1960s girlie magazine shoot, "Big Nude" also challenges the future of representational painting at a moment in history when the genre would seem to have long ago exhausted its potential for future development. Only the antiseptic whiteness of the canvas hints at a new approach to the figure that might perfectly marry an instant, unforgiving photographic record of a subject with the artist's reconsideration of its every component over months of studied, methodical transcription.

Acrylic on canvas - Collection Jon and Mary Shirley


Big Self-Portrait

The tentative air of experimentation that might be said to characterize Big Nude is nowhere apparent in Big Self-Portrait, a watershed painting that virtually showcases Close's unique method. Abandoning the full-body view, Close turned to one of the oldest traditions anywhere in art history, the self-portrait. Close had partially set out to refute the critic Clement Greenberg's claim that it was impossible for an "advanced" artist to work in portraiture. Closes's untraditional approach involved conceiving of and creating a unique kind of "mug shot," a black-and-white idiom that exacerbated the subject's blemishes and the original photographic distortion caused by the camera. The devotion to the idea of an unsparing, head-on view led him to refuse all commissions, as Close used only his own "mug" and that of close friends for his subjects.

Acrylic on canvas - Walker Art Center, Minneapolis



For Kent, Close made use of preparatory drawings for the first time to explore the three-color process, an imitation, or re-employment, of the photographic dye-transfer method. By adopting a mechanical procedure and mimicking it physically, or by hand crafting what is normally carried out by the camera, Close suggests that illusion is ultimately in the eye of the beholder, whose own optical apparatus finally "completes" the picture. Although Close literally painted the same image three times, one atop the other in separate colors, he was surprised when the work ended up taking three times as long to complete. In order to facilitate the process, Close wore cellophane filters over his eyeglasses in order to view marks in one color at a time.

Acrylic on canvas - Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto



The large format of Keith, although not nearly as large as Close's earlier portrait paintings, did not translate well to the outdated mezzotint process. Due to its gradual erosion, the plate made only ten good prints, and the surface coloring is noticeably lighter in the middle around the sitter's nose. The mezzotint printmaking process yields a soft, light-infused surface, here seen to best effect in Closes's rendering of the sitter's hair. The random effects typical of printmaking inspired Close to experiment further with various media.

Mezzotint - The Museum of Modern Art, New York



Close's enjoyment of the physical interaction between artist and material gave him a particular affinity for working in the fingerprint method. Criticized by some as a kitschy version of an art already informed by Pop, the unsophisticated technique, so reminiscent of child's play, seems doubly appropriate for this informal, yet subtly monumental portrait of the artist's grandmother. The numerous, individual touches of oil pigment gradually creating the appearance of supple flesh lends to the painting a sense of intimacy so appropriate to the underlying relationship between artist and his chosen subject.

Oil-based acrylic on canvas - The National Gallery of Art, Washington DC



Chuck Close's work is most often associated in the popular mind with his own likeness. Although it has been chosen by the artist largely for the sake of convenience, Close's self portraits provide an interesting arena for gauging the development of his thought and work over four decades. The insouciant stare of the young man in Big Self-Portrait makes a striking counterpart to the stolid, knowing gaze of the older Close as represented in this self-portrait of 1997. Indeed, the comparison illustrates the evolution from fledgling artist to international icon. Compared to the earlier work, the 1990s Self-Portrait also shows how abstraction has come to play a more prominent role in Closes's portraits. Each of the individual units of the grid is a miniature abstract painting unto itself, comprising a panoply of colors and shapes that seem to have jumped directly to the canvas from the artist's palette.

Oil on canvas - Private Collection



In recent years, Close has extended his investigations into various media to the ancient genre of tapestry, the repetitive and episodic weaving process in many ways paralleling his own painstaking juxtaposition of various colors in much of his portraiture. Using computerized photo transfers of glass daguerreotypes (for black-and-white versions) or Polaroid snapshots, the tapestry medium is ideally suited for Close's interest in large-scale work that nonetheless depends on pinpoint-like precision. Here, a portrait of artist-colleague Andres Serrano, notorious for his irreverent Piss Christ (1987) photograph that continues to roil conservative Christians, beams triumphant from the weave, which is deftly composed of numerous threads of various colors intertwining with such precision that the human eye is virtually seduced into believing that this is a real man pressing his face to a window.

Jacquard tapestry - PaceWildenstein Gallery, New York

Similar Art

Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Chuck Close
Influenced by Artist
Friends & Personal Connections
  • Ross Bleckner
    Ross Bleckner
Friends & Personal Connections
  • Philip Glass
    Philip Glass
  • Christopher Finch
    Christopher Finch
Movements & Ideas
Open Influences
Close Influences

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Content compiled and written by The Art Story Contributors

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

"Chuck Close Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. .
Content compiled and written by The Art Story Contributors
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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First published on 01 Aug 2011. Updated and modified regularly
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