Chuck Close American, 1940-2021


Chuck Close’s prominence and popularity are due mostly to his photographs and the giant portraits he has painted since the 1960s. Based on photographs, the portraits are monumental close-ups of heads (his family and friends) produced under various limitations (some self-imposed creative techniques, some health-related).

In a 1997 interview, Close told New York Times reporter, Michael Kimmelman, “My (early) learning disabilities also affected what I did as an artist. I could never remember faces, and I’m sure I was driven toward portraits because of the need to scan, study and commit to memory the faces of people who matter to me. The other thing is that I’ve always been incredibly indecisive and overwhelmed by problems, and I’ve learned that breaking them down helps, which is exactly how I paint a portrait: I break it down into bite-size pieces, into lots of little manageable decisions... What moves me about Seurat’s art is the incremental, nuanced, part-to-whole way his paintings are built out of elegant little dots, though I feel even more of a kinship with Roman mosaics because the mosaics are made out of big, clunky chunks, and I especially like the idea that something can be made out of something else so different and unlikely. In Roman mosaics, an eyeball is made from the exact same chunk of stone as the background, and this brings up the concept of all-overness and Jackson Pollock. It’s what I aim for in my own work, an all-overness that’s different from what most portraitists do by putting all of their attention into the eyes, nose and mouth.”  (“At the Met with Chuck Close,” The New York Times, July 25, 1997, p. B22.)


Chuck Close  is best known for his large-scale Photorealist portraits, composed of tiny airbrush bursts, thumbprints, or looping, multicolored brushstrokes. In 1962, Close received his BA from the University of Washington in Seattle, followed by his MFA at Yale University in 1964. Three years later, he moved to New York, where he was one of the founders of Photorealistic painting, working at first in black and white before shifting to colorful, bright, and almost abstract paintings. 

Close systematically composes his paintings with a grid format, which is often visible in the finished work; his most recent works combine his methodical grid with the spontaneous brushwork of the Abstract Expressionists. The subjects of his portraits are usually his family and friends, including artists such as Richard SerraCindy ShermanAlex KatzRoy Lichtenstein, and Robert Rauschenberg. His work is widely esteemed, and has been exhibited at The Museum of Modern Art and PS1 in New York, the Centre Pompidou in Paris, and the Tate Modern in London, among many other institutions. 

In 1988, Close was diagnosed with a rare spinal artery collapse, which he referred to as “The Event,” and was forced to paint in a wheelchair. Eventually, however, his artwork evolved to accommodate those new circumstances, and he began to incorporate pixelated squares of color, the result of which were painted with a brush strapped to his wrist.  From afar, , and which, from far away, create the effect of a unified composition. 


Chuck Close died in August of 2021.