Chuck Close is an American artist noted for his highly inventive techniques used to paint the human face. He is best known for his large-scale, Photo-Realist portraits.
In 1988 a spinal blood clot left Close almost completely paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair. A brush-holding device strapped to his wrist and forearm, however, allowed him to continue working. In the 1990s he replaced the minute detail of his earlier paintings with a grid of tiles daubed with colourful elliptical and ovoid shapes. Viewed up close, each tile was in itself an abstract painting; when seen from a distance, the tiles came together to form a dynamic deconstruction of the human face. In 1998 the Museum of Modern Art in New York City mounted a major retrospective of Close's portraits. Close has been called a Photo-Realist, a Minimalist, and an Abstract Expressionist but, as the 1998 retrospective proved, his commitment to his unique vision and his evolving techniques defy any easy categorization.
Chuck Close: There is no better time to make painting than when everybody thinks it’s dead. You’re free of market concerns; you’re free of all that stuff. It’s not so hot that everyone is demanding that the work be one kind of thing or another. And you can work away at what you’re doing, and work can evolve and you can get somewhere.
When we’ve had major times of financial distress in this country, like the ‘30’s and the Great Depression, a lot of people argue that some of the best work was made. I actually don’t think it was America’s greatest hour/art. The best period for me in American art was late ‘40’s, early ‘50’s and ‘60’s. That could be seen as a time when American opened it’s arms to largely Jewish, but other immigrants fleeing Hitler, and we became a kind of beacon, and it was a free and open society and we attracted some of the best and brightest from all over the world. That, together with some of our own homegrown artists, who probably felt very buoyed by America’s new found role in the world. And Paris and other art centers were now, either in shambles or didn’t seem like a great place to be nurtured as an artist. I think that probably has more to do with why it was a particularly great period to make art in America.
Chuck Close: I suppose it could be said that prices is a sieve, it sort of shakes out what is going on and will separate the wheat from the shaft. It will play a deciding role on who keeps working and who falls by the wayside.
Recorded on: February 5, 2009