CHUCK CLOSE by Lisa Yuskavage
From: BOMB 52/Summer 1995
Lisa Yuskavage: I’m going to interview you like a shrink, let’s take this very psychoanalytically.
Chuck Close: Twenty years of being shrunk. This should be good. Should I lie down?
LY: No, face to face therapy only. So, what’s your ethnicity?
CC: My family’s been in America for so many generations that no one is quite sure. It’s white, American, Midwestern, and probably English. “Close” in Old English is a road which turns around on itself and comes back out.
LY: They call them circles here.
CC: It’s not quite a circle. It’s a dead-end street with a turn-around, usually in English cities. Out on Long Island there are lots of closes. But we were just regular, poor, white-trash Americans.
LY: Poor-white-trash is one of my favorite subjects!
CC: We aspired to the middle-class. My father had an eighth-grade education; my mother studied to be a concert pianist after high school, during the Depression. But there wasn’t anything to do with that skill. We didn’t actually throw beer cans out of our trailer windows but everyone around us did. We were the aristocracy of the trailer court. (Just joking—we didn’t actually live in a trailer court.)
LY: Last time I was here you mentioned your dyslexia and your difficulty in recognizing faces. That has added another layer to your obsession with painting portraits.
CC: What did you come up with?
LY: You’ve said we work from our weaknesses. And I thought, “Well of course! You’re obsessed by things that you can’t do.” Your work is a combination of what you do really well and what you struggle with.
CC: My art has been greatly influenced by having a brain that sees, thinks, and accesses information very differently from other people’s. I was not conscious of making a decision to paint portraits because I have difficulty recognizing faces. That occurred to me 20 years after the fact when I looked at why I was still painting portraits, why that still had urgency for me.