Born in 1940 in Monroe, Washington, Chuck Close is renowned for his iconic portraits. Working across painting, drawing, and photography. Close first began making these during the late 1960s at a time when figuration was on the wane. His paintings and drawings are directly based on his photographs and produced by sketching a grid on both photo and canvas and copying each cell in minute detail to obtain a trompe l'oeil photorealistic effect. Typically blown up to enormous proportion, their larger-than-life manifestations at once serve to reinstate the vitality of portraiture in contemporary art and blur the distinctions between media, as pastel, ink, and oil alike take on the appearance of a photograph.
Close's structured approach to creating likenesses reflects an almost scientific approach to visual information. While the grid is erased from some of his photorealist portraits, creating a smooth, analogous look, other works retain the framework. The effect is a mosaic pattern, which from a distance may resemble photographic blur. In recent years, the gridded look has become familiar due to the prevalence of digital images with their pixelated foundation.
The present print, Self-Portrait (2007), is based on the same photograph that was used for Close's painting of the same title in the collection of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (2000-2001). 203 colors were used to produce the print (requiring 203 different screens to be cut and the same number of ink layers to be printed) and it took around two years to complete the editions.
Each of the cells in the work's visible grid structure is composed of an abstract shape--typically an oblong, circle, or square. At close range, it is difficult to make up the face and the image thus appears like a fragmented, formalist pattern. Yet from a distance, the different cells come together like a jigsaw puzzle and Close's likeness is readily apparent despite the disjointed squares of its composition. Many critics have invoked Jonathan Swift's novel Gulliver's Travels (first published in 1726) in order to describe this landscape-like quality of Close's portraits, imagining Swift's "Lilliputians" walking across the giant faces, stumbling over distinct areas one by one and gradually constructing a sense of a whole.
While the overall visual effect of the individual cells that together make up Close's face recalls the post-impressionist pointillism of artists like Georges Seurat, Close himself refers to Abstract Expressionism and other non-figurative movements in postwar American art to account for the "alloverness" of his works: "Whether it was Pollock's skein-like ribbons of paint in which there really was no difference from the left edge to the right edge...[or] Stella's black stripe paintings that just kept going...there were no areas that were thicker, thinner...I wanted to overlay on top of the portrait that commitment to the whole, to the rectangle, and make every piece as important as every other piece."
Beyond their formal attributes, Close's many self-portraits also possess an archival function, documenting the artist's physical appearance throughout the years-his gradual loss of hair, the changing fashions of his eyewear, deepening laugh lines, and also the subtle variations in posture, expression, and gaze. Such observations, of course, are far from specific to Close's face, but reminders, above all, of our common humanity.