Ever since the first time I saw some sketches of his at MoMA, I have been interested in Chuck Close. And it is clear that I am not the only one since his is a name that I have gotten used to seeing pop up all over the place over the years. For good reason, too, it seems. The artist who has worked within the field of portraiture since he began his career began – at first drawing them but experimenting with printing, painting, and photography over the years, all of which was celebrated for an unflinching honesty that only he could capture. This earned him a place as one of the main progenitors of a movement referred to as Photorealism, but to discuss Chuck Close through only that lens is a reduction of the man’s creative spirit. Far more noteworthy is the life-changing and career-altering seizure that Mr Close suffered in 1988 which left him paralyzed from the neck down. He took “the event”, as he called it, in stride; he had already been experimenting with the many ways that one could approach a portrait and the accident allowed him new avenues through which to explore this question with very real physical limitations. Often times assistants would help in the execution of Mr. Close’s portrait work – which I, speaking editorially, tend to think is a bit capitalistic and “cheating”, but in this circumstance certainly appreciate and understand – but it was Mr. Close himself who got behind the camera and took polaroids of a number of big-name stars (brad Pitt, Oprah Winfrey, Robert Deniro, et. al.) for a recent issue of Vanity Fair. Although the photos appear to be pretty simple affairs, Mr. Close approached the work with a potentially outré approach – no stylists, no make-up – that finds his subjects looking far more human than usual. They are beautiful pictures of people we know to be beautiful but looking natural…it is startling in the extreme ( especially in the pages of Vanity Fair), but important work done by an important artist.
The following is a short video of the artist’s process for the photo shoot and allows one to hear about the mutual vulnerability and collaboration that are indelible aspects in Mr. Close’s process that – from what I can – truly do come across in the portraits. With any luck Mr. Close’s work will open a door for us to be willing to approach portraiture once again, challenging ourself to do things differently, fearlessly even. Take a look at some of the ways that Mr. Close has presented himself through his art over the years and don’t forget to check out the video.
And if you are still interested the documentary below, Chuck Close: A Portrait in Progress, is a great watch if you have an hour.