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Chuck Close: Self-Portraits 1967-2005

July 24 - October 16, 2005


Celebrated as one of the most influential figurative painters of our time, Chuck Close has remained a vital presence by continuously reinventing portraiture, a genre often under-recognized in contemporary art. Since the 1960s, Close has used his inimitable style of representational painting to portray a wide range of subjects, including friends, family, fellow artists, and himself. Chuck Close: Self-Portraits 1967-2005, co-organized by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) and the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, focuses exclusively on Close's self-portraits. Comprising nearly 100 works, the exhibition surveys the artist's self-portraits in a broad range of media-painting, drawing, photography, collage, and printmaking-and provides a fascinating glimpse of an artist's self-examination over time. (right: Chuck Close, "Big Self-Portrait", 1967-1968, acrylic on canvas, 107 1/2 x 83 1/2 inches unframed. Art Center Acquisition Fund, 1969. Collection Walker Art Center)

Premiering in Minneapolis July 24 - October 16, 2005, the exhibition will then be presented at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the High Museum of Art (Atlanta), and the Albright-Knox Art Gallery (Buffalo). Chuck Close: Self-Portraits 1967-2005 is the first special exhibition to be presented in the Walker's newly expanded facility designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architects Herzog & de Meuron.

The exhibition is co-curated by Madeleine Grynsztejn, Elise S. Haas Senior Curator of Painting and Sculpture at SFMOMA, and Siri Engberg, Curator at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.

Through more than 35 years of "isms" and art movements, Close has remained committed to rigorous experimentation within his own carefully defined practice, and has regularly returned to his own image as a touchstone for his work at large. In examining this focused body of his work, Chuck Close: Self-Portraits 1967-2005 highlights how an artist can create a remarkable pictorial language that continues to become richer and expand through time.

The exhibition is framed by two major paintings, the monumental black-and-white Big Self-Portrait (1967-1968) -- the artist's first -- which the Walker purchased out of his studio in 1969, and which was the first of Close's paintings to enter a museum collection; and SFMOMA's Self-Portrait (2000-2001), a contemporary image painted as a mosaic of dazzling color, and the only other self-portrait painted at the scale of the 1968 canvas. The Walker presented Close's first major retrospective in 1980. Both institutions have a long history of collecting and exhibiting the artist's work.

Born in Monroe, Washington, in 1940, Close graduated from the University of Washington in Seattle in 1962. He graduated from the Yale University School of Art and Architecture in 1964 where he studied alongside a talented group of fellow artists, including Richard Serra, Nancy Graves, Brice Marden, and Robert Mangold. His paintings at the time were influenced by the work of Arshile Gorky and Willem de Kooning, but he remained dissatisfied with abstraction's open-endedness, and the nagging feeling that he was painting what art should look like. While in school, he traveled regularly to New York, became enthusiastic about Pop art, and began to feel an urgency about pushing his work in a new direction.

By 1967, Close had moved to New York City and abandoned the abstract work of his school years to begin painting from photographs. "I wanted something very specific to do, where there were rights and wrongs," he has remarked, "and so I decided to just use whatever happened in the photograph. Whatever shapes were there I would have to use . . . I was constructing a series of self-imposed limitations that would guarantee that I could no longer make what I had been making."

In 1968, Close completed the watershed painting Big Self-Portrait, his first self-portrait and the first of a group of eight black and white "heads," as he refers to them, which included portraits of fellow artists Nancy Graves, Richard Serra, Joe Zucker, and the composer Philip Glass. The paintings brought him instant recognition as an artist, and set the course for a working method the artist has continued to the present.

Always working from photographs as the basis for his imagery, Close first produces a maquette, comprising a photograph overlaid with a grid template. He then proceeds to systematically transpose the image to another surface-be it canvas, drawing paper, a printing plate, or a paper pulp collage-square by square. Though his practice is well-defined, it is far from rigid. Within each square, Close has chosen, as he has remarked, to consistently "alter the variables" in his work. Whether he fills each square with delicately airbrushed pigment, dots of pastel, inked fingerprints, etched lines, or organic brushstrokes in vibrant color, he continues "to find things in the rectangle and slowly sneak up on what I want . . . to make it all happen in the rectangle instead of on the palette and in context." Within the broad array of self-portraits featured in this exhibition, Close has used this method to produce works ranging from large-scale paintings to intimate drawings to elaborate paper pulp constructions. He is also a master printmaker, and has created self-portraits using techniques including etching, woodcut, linoleum block printing, and screenprinting.

Beginning in 1988, Close faced new personal and artistic challenges after suffering a collapsed spinal artery that initially left him paralyzed from the neck down. With time and tenacity, his condition improved, and though dependent on a wheelchair, he was able to begin painting again with a customized brace. The self-portraits made following this event became more gestural than ever before, and continued Close's explorations into the use of a bold, unexpected color palette. Close is a highly intuitive colorist, whose paintings have been connected to many art historical precedents, including the Byzantine mosaics of Ravenna and the paintings of Gustav Klimt.

Close has also been an innovator in the arena of photography, and the exhibition will contain numerous examples of his photographic self-portraits. One of the first artists to experiment with the large-format Polaroid camera, he has created many portraits in the medium, including large-scale collages of multiple photographs. In recent years, he has also embraced the 19th-century daguerreotype technique, which he has used to create a broad range of portraits-many of his own image-that feel exceptionally contemporary.

Chuck Close: Self-Portraits 1967-2005 will be accompanied by a richly illustrated catalogue documenting this body of Close's work in detail and across media, and will include essays by Madeleine Grynsztejn, Siri Engberg, and Douglas R. Nickel, Director of the Center for Creative Photography, The University of Arizona, Tucson.


Tour itinerary:

Walker Art Center
July 24-October 16, 2005
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
November 19, 2005-February 28, 2006
High Museum of Art, Atlanta
March 25-June 18, 2006
Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York
July 22-October 22, 2006


National sponsorship of Chuck Close: Self - Portraits 1967-2005 is made possible by the global financial services firm UBS. Additional support for Chuck Close: Self-Portraits 1967-2005 is provided by the National Endowment for the Arts.


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