Behind-the-Scenes: Chuck Close's "Self-Portrait" (2015)

Pace Prints
Mar 29, 2017 3:26PM

A look at how a staggering 86-color woodblock print gets made.

Chuck Close’s woodcut print, Self-Portrait, 2015, was a print project jointly conceived by Chuck Close and the master printer Karl Hecksher. Hecksher was tasked with the responsibility of carving woodblocks that would contain the gestural spirit of Close’s painted marks and be faithful to Close’s color palette. In this exhibition, we have selected some of the woodblocks that Hecksher used to achieve the final image as well as several State Proofs to provide a guide to the process of creating the final editioned image.   

 Printers Karl Hecksher and Yasu Shibata at the Pace Editions workshop in Manhattan. 

What is immediately apparent is the complexity of the process of Hecksher’s analysis and skill in determining the best sequencing of colors and his carving and printing the woodblocks accordingly. This was a lengthy and complicated process requiring experimentation and multiple trips to Chuck’s studio for color corrections. Based on the woodblocks and information provided by Karl Hecksher, the master printers, Justin Israels and Yasu Shibata, printed the edition at the Pace Editions Workshop. The entire process of creating the woodblocks and printing the edition took four years.

Four of 24 woodblocks used in the making of the print.

Each woodblock contains several variations on a color.

In the smaller gallery, you’ll notice each block has a piece of white tape. That tape is essentially the printers’ notepad—it’s where they kept notes on which block it was, what order it was to be printed, and the amount of pressure to use on the hydraulic press. For example, the orange block on the back wall of the small gallery is block number 13. Printing order 11 means it was the 11th block to be printed in the series of 24. @44 means 44 tons of pressure per square inch from inked block to paper on press. The sharpie lines on the blocks themselves are notations about color. Each block can carry anywhere from 2-8 color variations, and having more than one color on a block (atypical for printmaking) is more economical and less wasteful than having one block for every color. It is in this way the sharpie delineates “islands of like color,” much like a map for the printers.

Printers Yasu Shibata and Justin Israels ink one of the 24 woodblocks.

In the large gallery, viewing from left to right, you will encounter eight State Proofs. State VIII is the final print. These State Proofs were selected by Close to illustrate the printing sequence. Each of the Proofs has a number written by the artist in the lower left hand corner that indicates the number of colors at that stage (State) of the process. Please note that the number of colors and the number of blocks employed vary as many blocks were printed with more than one color.

Installation view of state proofs 1-5.

Installation view of state proofs 6-8. 

On the west wall of the gallery Chuck Close, Self Portrait, 2015, the final signed and numbered framed image (similar to State VIII). Each of the 86– color woodcuts was printed on Shiramine paper that measures 47 ¼ x 37 inches and is signed and numbered in an edition of 70. Chuck Close: Self-Portrait, 2015, Print & Process will be on view at Pace Prints, 521 W. 26th Street through April 8, 2017.

Final edition. Chuck Close, Self-Portrait (2015), Published by Pace Editions Inc.  

Pace Prints