Chuck Thomas Close (born July 5, 1940, Monroe, Washington) is an American painter and photographer who achieved fame as a photorealist, through his massive-scale portraits. Though a catastrophic spinal artery collapse in 1988 left him severely paralyzed, he has continued to paint and produce work which remains sought after by museums and collectors.
Most of his early works are very large portraits based on photographs (Photorealism or Hyperrealism technique). In 1962, he received his B.A. from the University of Washington in Seattle. He then attended graduate school at Yale University, where he received his MFA in 1964. After Yale, he lived in Europe for a while on a Fulbright grant. When he returned to the US, he worked as an art teacher at the University of Massachusetts.
In 1969 his work was included in the Whitney Biennial. His first one man show was in 1970. Close's work was first exhibited at the New York Museum of Modern Art in early 1973. One demonstration of the way photography became assimilated into the art world is the success of photorealist painting in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It is also called super-realism or hyper-realism and painters like Richard Estes, Denis Peterson, Audrey Flack, and Chuck Close often worked from photographic stills to create paintings that appeared to be photographs. The everyday nature of the subject matter of the paintings likewise worked to secure the painting as a realist object.
One photo of Philip Glass was included in his black and white series in 1969, redone with water colors in 1977, again redone with stamp pad and fingerprints in 1978, and also done as gray handmade paper in 1982.
On Dec. 7, 1988, Close felt a strange pain in his chest. That day he was in New York about to give an art award. He begged to present first, went on stage, quickly read his speech and then ran to the hospital. Within a few hours, Close was paralyzed from the neck down. At first the doctors were confused but eventually they diagnosed a rare spinal artery collapse. Close called that day, "The Event". For months Close was in rehab strengthening his muscles, he soon had slight movement in his arms and could walk, yet only for a few steps. He has relied on a wheelchair since. The doctors and art experts both agreed on one thing, his career was over.
However, Close continued to paint with a brush strapped onto his fingers, creating large portraits in low-resolution grid squares created by an assistant. Viewed from afar, these squares appear as a single, unified image which attempt photo-reality, albeit in pixelated form. Eventually Close managed to recover some movement in his arm and legs, and now paints with a brush strapped to his hand. Although the paralysis restricted his ability to paint as meticulously as before, Close had, in a sense, placed artificial restrictions upon his hyper-realist approach well before the injury. That is, he adopted materials and techniques that did not lend themselves well to achieving a photorealistic effect. Small bits of irregular paper or inked fingerprints were used as mediums to achieve, nonetheless, astoundingly realistic and interesting results. Close proved able to create his desired effects even with the most difficult of materials to control.
Although his later paintings differ in method from his earlier canvases, the preliminary process remains the same. To create his grid work copies of photos, Close puts a grid on the photo and on the canvas and copies cell by cell. Typically, each square within the grid is filled with roughly executed regions of color (usually consisting of painted rings on a contrasting background) which give the cell a perceived 'average' hue which makes sense from a distance. His first tools for this included an airbrush, rags, razor blade, and an eraser mounted on a power drill. His first picture with this method was Big Self Portrait, a black and white enlargement of his face to a 107.5 in by 83.5 in (2.73 m by 2.12 m) canvas, made in over four months in 1968. He made seven more black and white portraits during this period. He has been quoted as saying that he used such diluted paint in the airbrush that all eight of the paintings were made with a single tube of mars black acrylic.
Later work has branched into non-rectangular grids, topographic map style regions of similar colors, CMYK color grid work, and using larger grids to make the cell by cell nature of his work obvious even in small reproductions. The Big Self Portrait is so finely done that even a full page reproduction in an art book is still indistinguishable from a regular photograph.
Close currently lives and paints in Bridgehampton, New York.