Chuck Close

Artist of the Month


  • Chuck Close is a modern American artist who is famous for his massive portraits of his family and friends.

  • Chuck Close works from large Polaroid photographs of his subjects.

  • Chuck Close helped to revived the art of portraiture at a time when abstract art was all the rage.

  • Chuck Close's early works are painted in black and white in a Photorealist style.

  • Chuck Close is influenced by many different styles and techniques from Pop Art to Pointillism to ancient Roman mosaics.

  • Chuck Close uses a grid to divide the image into small sections which he scales up onto a large canvas.

  • Chuck Close's later work uses the grid as a structural element in the composition.

  • Due to their large scale, Chuck Close's paintings can be read in different ways: up close each section of the grid becomes a small abstract color study; from a distance all the sections of the grid combine to create a realistic portrait.

  • Chuck Close's artworks are a careful balance between the representational, the abstract and the conceptual qualities of the image.

  • Chuck Close has learning difficulties such as dyslexia and prosopanosia (the inability to remember faces) which have had a major influence on his style.

  • In 1988 Chuck Close suffered a spinal stroke which left him paralysed from the neck down and dependant on a wheelchair for mobility. He refers to this as 'The Event'.

  • After the 'Event' Chuck Close was determined to continue with his painting despite the limitations of his disability.

  • Chuck Close now uses a splint to enable him to hold a paintbrush and a mechanized easel to raise lower and rotate his canvas to a suitable position for painting.

  • Chuck Close works in a wide range of techniques and materials including acrylic, oils, watercolor, drawing, pastels, printmaking, collage, tapestry, photography, CYMK color separations, digital imaging, rubber stamps, fingerprints, paper pulp and string.

Chuck Close reinvented painting with his monumental portraits, rendered with exquisite, exacting realism from photographic sources.

Playing with ideas of scale, color, and form, Close has become famous for his rigorous, gridded application of individual color squares, which, although abstract up close, form unified, highly realistic images from afar. “I think most paintings are a record of the decisions that the artist made,” he said. “I just perhaps make them a little clearer than some people have.”

Close’s artificially restrictive painting techniques stem in part from physical limitations—he suffers from an inability to recognize faces, and had a spinal injury in 1988 that left him largely paralyzed. After his injury he painted from a wheel chair with the brush strapped to his hand.

Info source.

Overcoming Obstacles.

  • As a kid, he had vision problems including astigmatism, nearsightedness, and what he calls “some lazy-eye stuff.”
  • Due to the muscle weakness, he was clumsy and took a long time to learn how to walk. “I was uncoordinated and often had muscle fatigue,” Close says. “My legs would lock up and I would fall down.”
  • Teachers were not accepting of these differences, Close recalls. “There wasn't any such thing as a learning disability in the 1940s or '50s—not where I grew up,” he says. “Kids like me were just considered dumb or lazy. No one cut you any slack.” It wasn't until the 1970s, when he heard a speech about dyslexia at the grade school his daughter attended, that Close first suspected he might have a learning disability.
  • “Face blindness has plagued me since I was a child,” Close says. “I wouldn't know my classmates. At the end of the school year, I would still have trouble recognizing them.”
  • “If you break things down into smaller, incremental units,” Close says—whether faces, directions, or the process of reading—“then it's just one little piece of information at a time. Just one little decision, one little goal, and each can be a positive reinforcement.”

    Completing “smaller, incremental units” is how Close completes his portraits, which are at least 50 times larger than the actual human face. He begins by taking a photograph of the subject. Then, he lightly pencils a grid of small boxes across a large blank canvas and meticulously paints his way from the top left corner all the way down to the bottom right, filling in each individual square with the appropriate color or colors as he goes. “You start off with a blank canvas,” he says, “and day by day, week by week, you add a brushstroke here, a brushstroke there, and something comes to life in front of your eyes.”

  • In 1989 he had a spinal stroke. This left him paralyzed. He has also been confined to a wheelchair due to partial paralysis resulting from a spinal stroke.
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ArtXplorers visit a Chuck Close exhibit in NYC
Chuck Close explains why he follows a grid
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Mrs. Mitchell got to hear Chuck Close speak at an event in NYC.
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