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  Chuck Close Biography

Chuck Close Biography

born Monroe, WA (USA) 1940

Chuck Close is associated with the style of painting called Photorealism or Superrealism. In this style, artists in the early 1970s created a link between representational systems of painting and photography. Photorealism developed as a reaction to the detachment of Minimalism and conceptual art, which did not depict representational images. Photorealists frequently used a grid technique to enlarge a photograph and reduce each square to formal elements of design. Each grid was its own little work of art. Many of the Photorealists used the airbrush technique.

Big Self-Portrait, in black and white, was the first of Close's mural-sized works painted from photographs. This painting took four months to complete. To make this work, Close took several photographs of himself in which his head and neck filled the frame. From these he selected one of the images and made two 11 x 14-inch enlargements. On one of the photographs he drew a grid, then lettered and numbered each square. Using both the gridded and ungridded photographs, he carefully transferred the photographic image square by square onto a large canvas measuring 107 1/2 x 83 1/2 inches. He used acrylic paint and an airbrush to include every detail.

When Close was making his painting he was concerned with the visual elements--shapes, textures, volume, shadows, and highlights--of the photograph itself. He also was interested in how a photograph shows some parts of the image in focus, or sharp, and some out-of-focus, or blurry. In this portrait the tip of the cigarette and the hair on the back of his head were both out-of-focus in the photograph so he painted them that way in Big Self-Portrait.

Artists frequently change their style of work and Close experienced a tragedy that subsequently influenced his painting style. In 1988, he had a spinal blood clot, which left him a quadriplegic, unable to move either his legs or his arms. With a paint brush clamped between his teeth, he developed a new way to paint. His portraits, the photos, and canvases were gridded off by assistants and then he used his mouth brush to paint, using the techniques of grisaille and pointillism within the grids. This is similar to technique used by the Impressionists and Pointillists. The result was still a canvas of mini-paintings, which when viewed from a distance are seen as a single or unified image.

Select Timeline

  • 2002 - After Close works with master printer Yasu Shibata for over two years, the Japanese woodblock print Emma is completed.
  • 1999 - Working with David Lasry and Pedro Barbeito at Two Palms Press in New York, Close produces Self-Portrait I and Self-Portrait II
  • 1997 - RISD Honorary Doctorate form the Rhode Island School of Design, Province
  • 1996 - Received Honorary Doctor of Fine Art from Yale University, New Haven, Conneticut.
  • 1995 - Receives Honorary Doctor of Fine Art from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
  • 1992 - Close is elected a member of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, New York.
  • 1986 - creates his first Japanese-style woodblock print, Leslie, working in Kyoto with Japanese master printer Tadashi Toda and master carver Shunzo Matsuda
  • 1983 - Begins fingerprinting in color, the first work being John/Color Fingerprint.
  • 1977 - Chuck Close works for several months in his studio creating the plate for Self-Portrait
  • 1962-1964 - Close attends graduate school at Yale University, where he serves as assistant to master printer Gabor Peterdi. He received an MFA.

Select Exhibitions

  • 2004-2005 - Chuck Close: Process and Collaboration, Traveling Exhibition, Knoxville Museum of Art, Mint Museum of Art
  • 2004 - Chuck Close and Kiki Smith, Pace Editions, New York, NY
  • 2004 - Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
  • 2004 - Sol LeWitt and Chuck Close, Pace Editions, New York, NY
  • 2003-2004 - Chuck Close: Process and Collaboration, Traveling Exhibition, Miami Museum of Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art
  • 2003 - Summer Group Show, Pace Editions, New York, NY
  • 2002 - Recent Paintings Pace Wildenstein, New York, NY
  • 2001 - Chuck Close Self Portraits 1967-2001, Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco
  • 2000-2001 - Chuck Close, the Worcester Musuem of Art, Massachusetts
  • 2000 - Chuck Close Photographic Works, The Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, OH
  • 1999 - Chuck Close, White Cube, London
  • 1998-1999 - Traveling exhibition, Chuck Close: A Retrospective, originating at the Museum of Modern Art, New York.
  • 1998 - Chuck Close: Prints 1978-1997, Georg Kargl Gallery, Vienna
  • 1996 - Chuck Close: A Personal Portrait, Works, and Papers, at Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, New York
  • 1993 - A Print Project by Chuck Close, at the Museum of Modern Art
  • 1989 - Chuck Close Editions: A Catalogue Raisonne and Exhibition, at The Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, Ohio
  • 1988 - Chuck Close: Prints and Photographs, Pace Editions, New York
  • 1981 - Etchings, Lithographs and Handmade Paper, Pace Editions, New York
  • 1980 - Traveling retrospective exhibition, Close Portraits, originates at Walker Arts Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota.
  • 1979 - Chuck Close: Copie/Conformee Musee National d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, France
  • 1977-2000 - Completes numerous print editions, including pressed paper pulp, screenprint, intaglio and mixed media editions at Pace Editions, Inc., New York
  • 1975 - Traveling exhibition, Chuck Close: Dot Drawings 1973-75, originating at Laguna Gloria Art Museum, Austin, Texas

Select Artwork

  • Big Nude - 1967-1968
  • Big Self-Portrait - 1967-68, Acrylic on canvas
  • Dorothea - 1995, Oil on canvas
  • Self-Portrait - 1997, Oil on canvas
  • Lucas - 1986-1987, acrylic on canvas
  • Mark - 1978-1979
  • Kiki - 1993, acrylic on canvas
  • Lyle - 2003, Color silkscreen


  • "Some people wonder whether what I do is inspired by a computer and whether or not that kind of imaging is a part of what makes this work contemporary. I absolutely hate technology, and I'm computer illiterate, and I never use any labor-saving devices although I'm not convinced that a computer is a labor-saving device."


  • Chuck Close: A Retrospective, by Chuck Close, Robert Storr (Editor), Kirk Varnedoe, and Deborah Wye. Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2002.
  • Chuck Close Prints: Process and Collaboration, by Terrie Sultan. Princeton University Press, 2003.
  • The Portraits Speak: Chuck Close in Conversation with 27 of his Subjects, by Chuck Close, Dave Hickey, Joanne Kesten, and Maggie Fogel. Art Resource Transfer (ART) Press, 1998.
  • Chuck Close: Self-Portraits, 1967-2005 by Siri Engberg, Chuck Close, Madeleine Grynsztejn, and Douglas R. Nickel, Walker Art Center (August 15, 2005)
  • A Couple of Ways of Doing Something - by Bob Holman, Lyle Rexer , Chuck Close, Aperture (November 15, 2006)
  • Chuck Close: Life and Work 1988-1995 by John Guare and Chuck Close (Hardcover - Oct 1995), Thames & Hudson (October 1995)

Quick Facts

  • Chuck Close is associated with the style of painting called Photorealism or Superrealism.
  • Close's sitters are consistently posed in a manner that allows only the subtlest of individual inflections.
  • Close chooses his subjects from among his family and friends--including artists such as Richard Serra, Cindy Sherman, Alex Katz, Roy Lichtenstein, and Robert Rauschenberg--to create works that range from coolly unemotional likenesses of unidentified individuals to psychologically charged glimpses of well-known members of the contemporary art world.
  • American artist Chuck Close has been a leading figure in contemporary art since the early 1970s.


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