Brad Pitt, Kate Moss, Obama—some of the most famous faces in the world—are given fresh interpretation in Chuck Close’s powerfully vivid and intimate woodburytypes. Staunchly experimental with media and techniques, Close draws on a technique created around 1865 by Walter Bentley Woodbury, which uses dichromated gelatin, a material also used in holograms. When exposed to light, the gelatin creates an image in relief, directly related to the tonal range of the original; this is then used to form a second relief in lead, from which an image is cast in pigmented gelatin on paper.
The resulting pictures—some of which are on view at the Two Palms Armory booth from March 6th to 9th—are rich in plays of light and shadow, tonal variation, and supple, textured surfaces. Obama’s close-up portraits call to mind the last woodburytype of an American president ever made—of President Lincoln, in 1881. The images have an old-timey quality, but are also extraordinarily detailed, imbuing their subjects with uncanny presence. Kate and Brad, in particular, appear to emerge from their dark, receding backgrounds.
An image no less striking, Richard Prince’s Untitled (Girlfriend) (2013), also on view at Two Palms, creates an interesting juxtaposition with Close’s woodburytypes. A banal, smiling female face appears in Prince’s image—the latest in his “Girfriend” series—suggesting a computer-generated fembot. This visage, somehow both benign and eery, is an amalgam of the 57 women that appeared as Jerry Seinfeld’s various girlfriends in the eponymous show.
Speaking of the print, Prince commented, “Its effect was a cross between a Richter and a Ruff, Lee Remick vs. Mia Farrow (before the Rosemary’s Baby haircut), a little Christie Brinkley ‘sewn’ in there. And don’t rule out elements of The Stepford Wives, Village of the Damned, and Valley of the Dolls. Perhaps nothing overtly visual, but certainly the vibe of those classic matinees provides a second helping. I immediately liked its generic look.” In all of these portraits, there is something deeply familiar—even iconic—yet strange. We know these faces, and we don’t. Spend some time with them and you may find yourself unable to look away.
On view at Two Palms, The Armory Show, New York, Pier 94, Booth 732, March 6th–9th,