Chuck Close
Biography of American Photorealist Painter, Portraitist.

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Chuck Close (b.1940)


Training and Early Works
Photorealism: Portraiture
Superrealist Painting Method
Portrait Paintings

For biographies of some of
the best artists from the
19th century, see:
John Singer Sargent (1856-1925)
Society portrait artist.

For more photorealist works, see:
Greatest 20th Century Paintings.

For an explanation of the
terminology, see:
Art: Definition and Meaning.


A pioneer of photorealism, a highly detailed form of contemporary art in which artists painstakingly strive to replicate photographs of people, scenes and other images, Chuck Thomas Close is a contemporary American painter and photographer noted for his gigantic portrait art and, in particular, for his huge self-portraits. His famous Self-Portrait (1968, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis) is nearly 10 feet in height. Despite suffering a damaged spinal blood vessel in 1988, which left him severely paralyzed, Close has continued to paint with the aid of of a wrist support. Other noted painters of this type of realist painting include Don Eddy (b.1944), Richard Estes (b.1936) and Audrey Flack (b.1931), while leading superrealist sculptors include Duane Hanson (1925-96), John De Andrea (b.1941) and Carole Feuerman (b.1945). English/Irish hyperrealists include Michael Leonard (b.1933), Michael English (b.1943), Graham Dean (b.1951), and John Doherty (b.1949).


Training and Early Works

Chuck Close took an arts degree from the University of Washington in Seattle, after which, he received a Masters in Fine Art from Yale University. In 1964 he was awarded a Fulbright grant to attend the Akademie der Bildenen Kunste (Academy of Fine Arts) in Vienna, where he first began his signature style of painting from photographs. In 1967 he moved to New York City and started on his black-and-white portraits. In 1969, his work was exhibited at the Annual Exhibition of Contemporary American Painting.

Photorealism: Portraiture

In 1970, Close had his first solo-exhibition and rapidly became identified as the leading figure in the contemporary art movement we now call Photorealism (Superrealism or Hyperrealism). Since then, Close has devoted himself to the study of one single subject - the human face - producing a steady stream of personal images of family, colleagues and friends, and becoming one of the best portrait artists in contemporary American art. Initially he worked exclusively in black and white, but after 1970 switched to colour. Irrespective of the medium, some of his paintings are indistinguishable from photographs. He first showed at the New York Museum of Modern Art in early 1973, and at the Whitney Biennial in 1979. He is now seen as one of the great 20th century painters in the representational genre.


The Superrealist Painting Method

Close's method of painting is meticulous. Employing photographs as a reference, and using an underlying grid-structure, he paints systematically from one corner to the other. His pictures are constructed like mosaics, with each separate cell or grid-element acting like a tessera (piece of mosaic art) making a tiny contribution towards the whole. In his later works, he deliberately emphasized the grid, creating pictures resembling "low-resolution computer images", or faces seen through frosted glass.

For example, in his Self-Portrait (1997) in the New York Museum of Modern Art, [above left], the image of the head is cropped, bringing it closer to the viewer. The intrusiveness and sheer scale of the work turns what would ordinarily have been an interesting visual experience into a compelling psychological challenge.

Now one of the most famous modern artists in America, Close currently lives and works in New York State. His latest solo exhibition - Chuck Close: Selected Paintings and Tapestries - took place at the Pace Wildenstein Art Gallery in June 2009.

Portrait Paintings

Works by Close can be seen in several of America's best art museums, including:

- Frank (1969) monochrome, Minneapolis Institute of Arts
- Self-Portrait (1968) monochrome, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis
- Big Self-Portrait (1977-79) Minneapolis Institute of Arts
- Georgia (1984) Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, Ohio
- Self-Portrait (1997) Museum of Modern Art, New York

His tapestry pictures include portraits of Philip Glass, Kate Moss, Cindy Sherman, Lorna Simpson, as well as self-portraits.

• For biographies of other American artists, see: Famous Painters.
• For more information about Hyperrealism, see: Homepage.

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