Chuck Close

This isn’t exactly about the interactive medium, but Chuck Close is an inspiring man and artist.

He spoke at this year’s Society for Neuroscience (SfN) conference.  It’s the big annual neuroscience conference in the US with >30,000 scientists and the like convening to share their work.  I didn’t attend this year, but I did watch the Dialogues Between Neuroscience and Society lecture (on youtube and watched this documentary).  SfN has had magicians, choreographers and the Dalai Lama in recent years.  This year they got Chuck Close.  (I’d recommend watching him speak – interviews on youtube, the SfN lecture, whatever.)

He grew up with neuromuscular issues, learning disabilities and face blindness (prosopagnosia). Later, he became paralyzed to the point of being quadriplegic, and yet, still found a way to advance his work.  His spirit is indomitable and his life is reflected in his work.

He is driven to faces.  He only creates works of close friends.  His face blindness prevents him from recognizing people in three dimensions – he has said that ‘if you move your head by half an inch, to me, it’s a whole new face I’ve never seen before.’  But he claims that his recall for two dimensions is impeccable, so he works from photographs that he meticulously takes himself.  He describes his fascination with faces as a way to flatten loved ones and commit them to memory.  Like with this intimate painting of his ex-wife below:

He creates massive (>7ft) works.  I don’t think digital images of Chuck’s works do them justice (but google him, I’m sure you can find better quality images than the ones I’ve posted).  These canvases are massive and demand to be interacted with – walking as close as a museum attendant will let you and then stepping back across the exhibition room.  He covers these large canvases through repetition of small units.  It’s a theme he connects up to his struggles with disabilities in school – always needed to break information up into manageable chunks to have any chance.  In his most recent works, he grids off the canvas and works piecemeal making multiple passes through each box.  His first pass involves filling the grids with whatever color and shapes strike his fancy.  He embraces the flatness of the canvas by refusing to represent form.  His subsequent passes are his attempts to slowly bring the canvas back to representation.  He looks for unlikely color combinations that when viewed from farther away optically mix into the appropriate color.

I like how Phillip Glass describes Chucks work. “The result was the image.  The image became a carrier for an idea.  The image was something that you looked at while you looked at the picture.”  Chuck is all about embracing and submitting yourself to a process.  He’s worked with fingerprints (below), air brushes, scribbles, etchings, prints, tapestry, etc.  Regardless, the finished work is not just a rendering of a head, but a recording of the journey he took to get to the image.

His work is unique recording of himself – his personality, disabilities and quirks included.  In his early works, his face blindness drove him to a place where he created hyperrealistic representations where the person’s essence couldn’t help but leak onto the canvas.  In his recent works, he dove deeper into rendering the process.

Chuck’s work speaks to embracing yourself and refusing to let anyone tell you to do otherwise.


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