Luckily I was able to see the latest, Chuck Close exhibit at the Corcoran Gallery of Art before it closes on September 12. He is one of my favorite contemporary artists. I have clippings upon clippings regarding news stories about is work but I learned so much more about his process through this exhibit. Talk about painstaking. I had no idea that some of his prints took at least seven or more stages to achieve or used over 113 colors. Not only do I find him to be an incredibly talented draftsman but he’s a print maker rock star who breaks the boundaries all the previous methods of printmaking.
After his unfortunate aneurysm in 1988, which cause his incomplete quadriplegia, he continued his experimentation with printmaking and perfecting his art as if his disability didn’t (and doesn’t) hold him back. I find this just in itself so inspirational. He has been able to adapt and find ways to accommodate his situation — now being wheelchair bound with limited use of his extremities.
He starts with either a drawing or painting and usually in large scale. He starts at the top and moves down, section by section, using a grid method to transfer the photographic image onto the paper or canvas. Once his artwork is finished, which could take months, he collaborates with the many master printers, who he has accumulated to help him deconstruct his artwork into “pieces” as a puzzle to reassemble and reproduce as a print. He uses many techniques from his early exploration of mezzotint to lithography to Japanese wood prints to his most recent paper pulp portraits. The objective seems to be to get the print to get back to looking like the original painting. The results meld artistic procedures where you cannot tell one from the other.
This interview with Chuck Close by Arne Glimcher from Plum TV is very helpful in explaining his paint process — before the print process. As stated, he uses the grid method to transfer the work onto a canvas but rather than paint exactly what is represented, he uses colors and methods to create abstract forms of each single component that make up the image and the viewer’s eye assembles it together. This is similar to pointillism but the colors and representation of the image are not treated the same way and are not what you see in the photo reference.
I find his work process extremely precise and mathematical and discovering that he had an undiagnosable learning disability, which was later recognized at dyslexia (via his interview with Phong Bui), makes sense as to why his work is so orderly and controlled. It is also revealing to learn that he views his work as abstract rather than realistic, when his fingerprint portraits are highly realistic; even though, the images are entirely comprised of fingerprints. Their components and the process in their making is nothing but abstract, however. Close explains his perspective with this quote:
See my problem was that I just didn’t like the term realism or photorealism; I was more interested in the tension between reality and artificiality. I was as interested in the distribution of marks on flat surface as I was in what they stacked up to represent. And the emphasis that realism made iconography too important and painting not important enough didn’t really appeal to me. In other words, I was always so much more interested in the process than the destination. That, I think, is where style, innovation, and personal vision is located.
Not only does he use a mathematical grid system for his painting but he uses numbers in his print process to indicate the tonal quality for the right amount of pressure to apply for etching or paper pulp color to use. This was eye-opening to discover at the Corcoran exhibit. They did an excellent job of showing the stages of the print, how a grid is used, the layering and even his incredible anamorphic self-portrait print. This really shows his knowledge of the great masters, who used this technique, including Escher, another great draftsman and printer.
I’ll look forward to seeing even more innovative techniques of Close’s artwork as he continues to create. In the meantime, click here for previous posts on Chuck Close and I’ll be reading the exhibition book (very last one they had), Chuck Close Prints, Process & Collaboration, cover to cover.