November 19, 2010

Chuck Close's Printmaking

        I stick to the same medium all the time but use it to depict a wide variety of subject matter.  Chuck Close does the opposite: his work consists almost exclusively of images of people's faces - in fact, he uses some of the same faces over and over - but he experiments with all different styles and mediums to portray the same subject matter.  I find Close a fascinating artist and especially love his huge rainbow-colored paintings that look like bright, beautiful abstract grids when viewed close up, but resolve themselves into realistic portraits when viewed from a distance.  One day, however, I encountered a reduction print portrait he did and I was blown away.  I don't remember where I saw it (I think probably the Smithsonian), or which of his faces it was, but it was the first I'd heard of the reduction print process and I was intrigued and amazed.  At some point I'll do a post on reduction prints, because they're seriously cool, but for now I want to feature Close as a printmaker.  There are four things about Close's prints that I find remarkable.
        The first point is just the amazing scale and quality of the works.  Most of them are huge and all of them are meticulously detailed and require impressive technical proficiency.
        The second point is the diversity of techniques Close has experimented with.  He's done silkscreening, mezzotint, woodcut, linoleum, multiple plates, Ukiyo-e, etching, lithography, paper pulp collage (which for some reason seems to get classed with printmaking, although I have to say I'm not sure why)…
        The third point is that when I say Close has experimented with all these techniques, what I mean is that he's collaborated with experts in all these various techniques.  I tend to have the prejudice that if an artist doesn't do every step himself he's somehow cheating, but the truth is that in all the history of art it's been very rare for an artist not to have assistants, collaborators, or experts to contribute to various parts of the creation of a piece.  (And of course I don't make my own paper or ink or other materials, and I suppose one could just as well argue that that's cheating.)  Here's an interesting description of the work one of Close's collaborators has done to create the color woodcut above that reproduced a lovely painting Close made.  For some of his prints Close does more of the work himself, for others, like the woodblock described in the link, he does less.  (In 1988 Close suffered a spinal artery collapse that left his movement severely restricted, but even before what he calls "The Event" he was experimenting with a variety of techniques, and even after it he continues to be able to adapt and find ways to achieve his effects.)
        And finally, the fourth point is that Close gives credit to his printmaking for driving and facilitating the creativity and innovation which have earned him his reputation as an influential artist of the highest tier.  This is interesting because printmaking is often considered to be a lesser medium, even somewhat derivative.  Serious artists doing their serious work paint in oils or sculpt, while printmaking is for reproduction or for fooling around.  Given that prejudice, it's nice to hear a great artist giving printmaking mediums their due.  And Close's prints have been receiving their due, too, in the form of an exhibition that has been around to a number of locations - none of them, alas, near me.  (I was in DC not too long before the show came to the Corcoran, but a miss is as good as a mile… *sigh*)  As far as I can determine that was the last location and it's over now, but I still hope to run into more of these pieces in museums in the future.  And I hope Close keeps producing more work for a long time to come.

[Pictures: Emma, ukiyo-e woodcut based on a painting by Chuck Close, 36x30 in, 2002;
    Untitled (Self-Portrait), relief print by Chuck Close, 40x30 in paper, 1999;
    Lucas, linocut by Chuck Close, 31x32 in, 1988;
    S.P. II, linoleum cut printed reductively, by Chuck Close, 11.5x9 in, 1997.]

Thanks to Greg Kucera Gallery, Inc. for a great listing of images.


ChrisO said...

I love Chuck Close. I'm familiar with the grid paintings, but didn't know he had experimented so broadly with form. Very cool. I'll have to look for more of his stuff!


Anne E.G. Nydam said...

Thanks for coming by, Chris! I Have fun discovering new works by Close!