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Chuck Close: Prints and Process


An exhibition of fine art prints by Chuck Close, one of America's top artists, has opened in Davidson's Katherine and Tom Belk Visual Arts Center at the same time a separate exhibition of his work opened at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

Brad Thomas, Davidson's gallery curator, said the concurrence was complete coincidence, but is appreciated. The New York Times wrote a review of the Metropolitan Museum show on January 16, highlighting for Charlotte-area residents the importance of this sixty-four-year-old artist who has developed highly-renowned print making techniques during the past thirty years.

Thomas put together the Davidson exhibition, entitled "Chuck Close: Prints and Process," by working for two years to secure about fifty prints from private collectors, corporate and university collections, and from Pace Editions in New York City, which has published a majority of Close's prints since the late 1970s. The exhibit is open for viewing through Friday, February 27, 2004 in the William H. Van Every Gallery of the Belk Visual Arts Center.

Beginning in the early 1970s, Close became known for his huge close-up views of faces, of himself, friends, and family members in black and white. He worked from the beginning in both paint on canvas and in making prints, but the Davidson exhibit features only his varied, innovative, and painstaking print making techniques. Thomas explained, "They look like pixilated and computer generated images, but the work is all done manually without any help from computers at all. Once you begin to comprehend the nature of his processes, you realize what an amazing accomplishment it is."

In 1988 the artist suffered a spinal blood clot that left him paralyzed and unable to work. But through physical rehabilitation he relearned how to make art. He regained some use of his arms and hands, and now works from a wheel chair.

Close lays down multiple marks, such as brush strokes, thumbprints, blobs of paper pulp, precise lines, and scribbles, to create an image of a human face. Viewed up close, the individual elements make little visual sense, but as the viewer backs away, they coalesce into the intended image.

Close has developed different techniques by relying heavily on the expertise and intuition of the master printmakers with whom he collaborates, and the Davidson exhibit includes etching, aquatint, handmade paper pulp, linocut, and screen printing.

One wall of the exhibition illuminates Close's technique in two rows of twenty-five prints that illustrate all the steps required to make a final image. The top row of prints are single, different colors. The bottom row shows the progressive effect that each of the different colors creates as they build on each other toward creation of the final image, which hangs at the end of the row.

The show also includes "Emma," a picture of a baby created in 2002 as a Japanese-style woodcut with 113 colors made from twenty-seven individually carved wooden blocks.

A full color brochure that includes an essay by June Lambla, director of the Fine Print Room at Hodges Taylor Gallery in Charlotte, is available at the exhibition. She writes in the brochure, "Big-time printmaking today is a collaborative business. The lone artist in a garret with a woodblock, ink and spoon is a quaint notion that bears no resemblance to Mr. Close's modus operandi. His partners have included master printers like Joe Wilfer and Kathan Brown and Tadashi Toda, experts, variously, at the ins and outs of spitbite aquatints, reduction linoleum cuts, screen prints, handmade paper pulp multiples and other arcane techniques seemingly impenetrable to the uninitiated."

Charlotte audiences will get another opportunity to view Close's work when the exhibit now at the Metropolitan Museum comes to the Mint Museum in spring 2005.

Note: Both photos show Davidson Gallery Director Brad Thomas explaining the exhibition to one of numerous groups of school children who have toured it.


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