Cindy II is a masterpiece of Close's late portrait style. Completed in 1988, it forms part of a series Close made of artists who use self-portraiture in their work. In conversation with Cindy Sherman, Close explained the origins of this series:
"When I was doing that series of people, I had just spent years, after initially painting mostly other artists, painting my family and my children . . . I had been painting my family for so long that I wanted to do something else, and I thought, "Well, the other family is the art community and people with whom I have a relationship through their work." Then I thought, "Well, there are all of these people who are familiar to us because they use their own bodies or their own faces in their work," so I decided that I wanted to make portraits of pros, the people who pose for themselves. I did you [Cindy Sherman] and Lucas, Alex Katz and Francesco Clemente, and whoever else is in that series" (quoted in J. Kesten, ed., The portraits speak: Chuck Close in conversation with 27 of his subjects, New York 1997, p. 342).
In her own work, Cindy Sherman invariably poses in some fictional guise. In Close's painting she instead appears free of all artifice, dressed in a casual and "natural" way. According to Robert Storr's analysis, Cindy Sherman purposefully chose to construct this appearance just as she would any other persona in her art; Storr writes, "Conceptual photographer and filmmaker Cindy Sherman . . . is also a past master at making herself over, and for her portrait followed the tack taken by Zucker [another of Close's sitters], hiding herself behind heavy librarian glasses, and affecting an out-of-fashion bobby-soxers ponytail" (R. Storr, ed., Chuck Close, exh.cat., Museum of Modern Art, New York 1997. p. 46). However, in conversation with Chuck Close, Cindy Sherman stated, "I had no knowledge of what to be." Close replied, "But for someone who's silly-putty in your own hands--you make yourself into whatever you want--it seemed that you were not very interested in producing any particular kind of image for me, which I thought was interesting. When I finally asked you to do things, you had no trouble performing" (quoted in Kertens, op. cit. p. 342).
In this conversation, William Bartman asked Sherman, "It must be disconcerting to see yourself portrayed on such a large scale." Sherman answered, "Yes, especially without any of my usual wigs or the things behind which I hide. It's really hard to look objectively without feeling self-conscious that you are looking at yourself" (quoted in ibid.)
Cindy II is a superb example of Close's late style. Whereas the painter's early works, for all their evident stylization, aspired to a nearly photorealist level of precision, his more recent pictures have been characterized by the division of the painting surface into a large grid, by the large brushstrokes, and by the vivid palette of undiluted colors. Kirk Varnedoe has commented on this development:
By the late eighties, the photographic look which had been so central to Close's early work seemed less and less of an issue . . . Close now uses a large-format Polaroid that offers him an exquisite level of detailed information, incomparably more lavish in its range than the grainier snaps of the early years; yet virtually no photo effect (focus blur, halation, etc.) nor any surface information (pores or blemishes or wrinkles) is translated to the canvas. Instead, as the paintings' grids have become steadily larger, each box has come to contain a more complex subworld of colors and shapes, vividly teeming with a variegated organicism largely removed from any specific correlation with local descriptive features. As a result, these recent pictures can seem to have less to do with the processes of photography than with those of thought itself: by treading more boldly along the edge of incoherence, they visibly play up the way in which our neural networks form a complex, uniquely specific whole-in this case, an identity, a likeness-from the synchronous firings of dissimilar, fractiously disconnected units" (K. Varnedoe, "Chuck Close Then and Now," in R. Storr, ed., op.cit., p. 66).
The radial pattern of the grid of Cindy II is exceptional and noteworthy. One of the few parallels for it in Close's oeuvre is Lucas. It has the effect of evoking the radial brushwork of Vincent van Gogh's Self-Portrait with a Grey Felt Hat (fig.1) one of the first paintings to make an impact on Close when he saw it at an exhibition in Seattle as a youth.
The photo-maquette used for Cindy II is offered here as Lot 11.