"(H)is paintings impose on us a unique, almost hallucinogenic intimacy (that) is both startlingly immodest and startlingly frank. Close's paintings also grant us a special license to indulge our curiosity without fear, (but, rather) with the innocent indiscretion of a child." (L. Lyons and R. Storr, Chuck Close, New York, 1987).
Chuck Close's portraits are technically brilliant, intellectually questing and highly sophisticated interrogations of the very meaning of the portrait image, possessing a Photorealist aspect, to be sure, but evincing, also, a fascination with modes of representation, and, in this respect, they have much in common with the goals of Conceptual Art. Throughout his career, Close has been a relentless innovator, exploring diverse methods and means of image-making (often astonishingly laborious and painstaking), in both color and black and white.
In the late 1970s, Close began a series that employed pastels in a wide spectrum of hues, working with paper that he tinted with watercolor - Mark is one of the portraits from this series. Critics have noted that the pastels, reminiscent of mosaics, present the appearance of a thousand shimmering particles of color. The subject of Mark is Close's friend Mark Greenwold, an accomplished painter in his own right (many of Close's portrait subjects have been artists). Greenwold was delighted to be chosen (this is obvious in the eager, open expression he offers in the portrait), and he followed avidly the portrait's progress. Afterward, he said that "I always wondered how (Close) picked his subjects and I always wanted him to paint me." Of the selection process, Close himself once remarked, "I try to pick people who matter to me but who also project compelling images." Greenwold is a perfect example, and both he and Close considered the Mark portraits great successes.
Close relished the freedom he found through working with the almost unlimited color palette of the pastels (he had previously been using a deliberately-constrained, three-color method). He also enjoyed the physicality he found with pastels. He observed, "the excitement in making the pastels was holding the chalk in my hand, physically manipulating the material, and making real contact with the surface." (L. Lyons and R. Storr, Chuck Close, New York, 1987).
Beginning in 1978, Close embarked on a highly-distinctive and uniquely-personal black and white series - the fingerprint drawings. Frank is one such portrait in this exceptional set of portraits within Close's total output. He made these images by applying stamp pad ink to his thumb and finger, then using them to make impressions on a paper surface. This method offered Close the option of creating either highly-detailed portraits, or fleeting, impressionistic glimpses. Early works in this series employed a grid structure as organizing principle, but subsequent efforts, such as Frank abandoned the grid, as Close applied his marks across the surface at various angles and with greater freedom. Setting aside the grid, Close accomplished a richness absent from the earlier gridded works. By applying alternating pressure, he was able to vary the images' tonalities, as we see in the subtle modeling of the Frank portrait. In describing this series, Close made reference to the Sri Yantra - a Hindu diagram meant to stimulate meditation. He had read that one such diagram had lost its power, but was reactivated by gurus who pressed red ink impressions of their thumbs onto its surface. It's an amazing story that offers a hint as to the special meaning this series of drawings has for Close, and offers insight into Close's feeling for his work, too - encompassing, but ranging far beyond technical, surface modes and methods of representation.