By Ronni Sandroff | Mar. 2016 | Letagemagazine.com
The faces, looming larger-than-life, often staring straight at you, are unguardedly and unglamorously human. They seem so real that you can sense the rumble of the person’s thoughts. Yes, the paintings and photographs of renowned New York artist Chuck Close, 76, can take some getting used to. When you view a photograph, it’s as if you’re staring deep into a person that you suddenly know all too well.
Close has photographed, painted, woven, and imaginatively reinterpreted many times, a core set of almost wall-size portraits. The colorful pixelated painting versions are the most ravishing – and yield a series of different visions as you walk toward and away from them. But though Close can border on the abstract, the strong gaze of his subjects bores through. The subjects (including himself) have almost blank expressions and don’t overtly show emotion. They seem unposed, and somehow objective.
At the March 4 PAMM Art of the Party gala in Miami, which honored the artist, Close answered a few questions for L’Etage Magazine that I’ve long wondered about.
When you’re doing a portrait, do you consciously try not to “editorialize” about the person who is the subject of your work?
Chuck Close: I try to be rather neutral and flat-footed, but I’m sure there’s some editorial work in there somewhere. I don’t flatter anybody, but I also don’t try to make them look worse. No matter how much they hate it when I do it, ten or 15 years later they think they look pretty good.
Even in your portraits of well-known people, such as Kate Moss and Justin Timberlake, we see an unfamiliar side of them. How do you work with models to achieve this?
Chuck Close: I don’t let them put on makeup, and I don’t do photoshop. There’s something kind of wonderful about people before they try to improve themselves. There’s a certain kind of honesty to it. When I apologized to Kate Moss, she said: “oh its ok I’ve had a million pretty photos taken.” (Laughs)
You’ve said your favorite painter is Johannes Vermeer. His faces also often have enigmatic expressions. Can you talk about how he has influenced you?
Chuck Close – I think I can figure out how any painting in the history of the world was made except for Vermeer’s. (His paintings) are like an apparition. Just magical. It’s the fact that they’re so special that impresses me. I never care about the story. I’m a formalist. I don’t care who the letter (in Vermeer’s “Woman in Blue Reading a Letter”) is from. It’s like he paints blue on the canvas in a divine breath.