“Any innovation that is evident in my paintings is a direct result of something that happened in the course of making a print.”—Chuck Close
As a young artist fresh out of graduate school in 1972, Chuck Close created his first mezzotint and, by chance, established the basis for the grid lines found in many of his later portraits. Keith/Mezzotint, a portrait of his friend and fellow artist Keith Hollingworth, would be the largest mezzotint ever created (at the time), requiring Close test it out in sections. Due to the extensive proofing process, the final print evidenced grid lines, distinguishing the different sections that Close had created. He embraced this flaw, published Keith/Mezzotint in an edition of 10, with four artist proofs, and began a dialogue on the limits of grid lines, which would translate to many later works.
It is this innovation, be it intentional or not, that is explored in Contessa Gallery’s “Chuck Close: Radical Innovator.” Focusing on Close’s mastery of various types of printmaking, the show assembles a body of new and recent works, alongside one of the artist proofs of Keith/Mezzotint, to represent the fundamental role of the practice in the artist’s career.
A group of watercolor prints are among Close’s new work in the show, representing a new iteration of his gridded compositions and an ingenious use of digital media. These works, compositions made up of hundreds of individual squares, appear to have been painted individually in watercolor. In actuality the works are created from almost 15,000 watercolor squares that Close painted in grayscale and then scanned into a computer, then arranged into the portraits and colored digitally. The works are then printed with watercolor paint on watercolor paper, resulting in what appear to be meticulously painted watercolor portraits.
Another new group of works, felt hand stamp prints, also employ a grid and an even more laborious process, one that requires hand stamping thousands of dots. The portraits are first gridded and mapped out on paper, then printed using tiny circular stamps that each hold a single color of oil paint. The painstaking process is repeated to apply three layers of paint, using different colors each time to create depth. Each of these prints is a unique, original work.
Among other prints—including woodcuts, screenprints, engravings, etchings and even jacquard tapestries—the show includes numerous photographic works representing another foundational aspect of Close’s practice. The inclusion of photography is especially appropriate given that each of Close’s portraits—printed, painted or even made into a jacquard tapestry—begins with a photograph. From unique polaroids and daguerreotype self-portraits to woodburytypes of Brad Pitt and Kate Moss, this select group of photographic works offers a dynamic complement to the show’s printed works.
“Chuck Close: Radical Innovator” is on view at Contessa Gallery, Cleveland, through Jan. 12, 2014.