Chuck Close – Details of a face are the blueprint of ones existence


On February 12, 2015 & posted in Art, Editor's picks, Exclusive


Bob 1969-70, Acrylic on gessoed canvas.


– Written by Anmari Botha


Australia’s Museum of Contemporary Art is currently hosting Chuck Close’s most expansive collection of work ever to be shown in the Southern Hemisphere, as it includes Bob 1969-70 and Keith 1972. These two key pieces were Close’s breakthrough into the art world. The New York based artist is worldly acknowledged for his portraits, or “heads” as he prefers. Terrifyingly detailed faces of family, friends and of himself. Why heads? Some may think Chuck’s tediously detailed obsession is due to learning disabilities such as Dyslexia and ADHD, therefore his mind is wired differently. He just understands colour; he has the ability to read through colours. But this doesn’t answer the question… A face is so unique; it’s the most unique visual feature that we humans can claim. As Oscar Wilde wonderfully puts it – “Be yourself, everyone else it take.” Chuck chooses to paint the face, as it is a gateway into an individual’s life story.

Close was the first artist to create oversized portraits, although, he perceives himself as a conceptual and minimalist artist. Portrait painting was considered traditional subject matter, a thing of the past. Nobody was doing portraiture, yet that’s what made him stand out. His subject matter remains constant throughout his practise while his medium is constantly changing. His breakthrough piece Bob dominates the first room. This piece, like most his early work, is made using a gridded black and white photo as the base image, then airbrushed onto a white gessoed canvas, using a razor to cut back the black in order to create the highlights. Photorealism was trending at the time, but what made this photorealistic painting a phenomenon is the expression of the almost mug-shot facial expression. Close creates his artwork from his photographs, enabling him to have greater control over his final work and reinforcing the idea that personality can be seen within the integrity of fine detail. It looks as if Close was taking the picture mid-sentence, an almost surprised look on his face.

Some critics may argue that Close claimed his fame by painting only celebrities like Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, Philip Glass etc… and I agree that there is a novelty in seeing your idol big enough to take over your bedroom wall, but this is not the case for Chuck Close. Before any of them became “Somebody”, they struggled alongside one another in New York during the 60’s. “All of us who were trying to figure out how to make art in the late sixties wanted to make works that didn’t look like anyone else’s.” The piece Phil Spitbite 1995 is an essential piece to this exhibition. It was created almost twenty years after the photograph was taken, showing us a young Philip Glass that the world has not seen.

This piece was created using a technique called Spitbite Etching. This method is one of the most tedious techniques I have ever heard as it consists of minuscule scratches in a copper plate, dropping acid in each individual scratch for a certain period of time and then applying saliva to that scratch. This method results in a very unique image. Unlike Bob this is not a photorealistic painting, but it obtains the same sense of individualism. Close relates his understanding of medium application as the “visual equivalent of a musical chord.” He has the ability to break down the detail of a face and re-assemble it again to create an exclusive art piece just as a note can be broken down and re-assembled to create a harmonised chord.

Phil Spitbite 1995, Spitbite and Etching.


Six rooms filled with only faces; extraordinarily large and immensely detailed faces glaring down at me as I wonder through the exhibition. Everyone is different, everyone is an individual with his/her own story hidden in the fine detail.




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