What Chuck Close said…

A self portrait by artist Chuck Close.

Chuck Close is a photographer/artist who, since the 70s, is famous for very large scale photo-realistic paintings – or maybe they’re hand-painted photos, or some other name for the sort of hybrid images he creates.

I’ve liked his stuff, sort of, since I first saw it back in the 80s. At that time it pushed the technological envelope, seemingly “computerized” in some new and exciting way. 10 feet tall, hanging high in the main lobby of an art museum, a Chuck Close painting – or whatever it was – impressed the heck out of me. Today, I see something more in what he does. The pixel/cell effects are varied and cleverly designed. There’s a fractal quality to these giant images – they’re interesting at different distances, in different ways.

A stroke in 1988 seriously handicapped him; in response, he focused even more intensely on his work and his unique and evolving process. He’s dyslexic. And, he apparently has prosopagnosia – “face blindness” – so he doesn’t really recognize faces without an analytic process, which is part of what his images are about. Persevering through everything, always producing new work, Chuck Close has become an icon in the art world. His work hangs – big, expensive, and prominently displayed – in the best places. He’s made it, and knows how he got there.

Appropriately for a “photorealist”, he’s totally realistic about the art business and the artistic process itself – maybe in part because he’s had to be. And he’s also known for this quote, which IMHO may be the single most insightful thing anyone has ever said about photography:

 “Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightening to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work. All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself.”

It’s totally true; sitting around trying to come up with a “good idea” never leads to anything. Even if I think I have one, and go someplace to execute it, it usually doesn’t work like I expected. But if I just get out there and get started, I may hit on a different spin – or something else entirely. It’s surprising how often that happens; but not to Chuck Close, the realist.

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