Tokyo, Fuji Television Gallery, Chuck Close, March 1985, illustrated
Fort Lauderdale, Museum of Art, An American Renaissance: Painting and Sculpture Since 1940, January - March 1986, pl. 75, p. 142, illustrated
Nagoya, Nagoya City Art Museum, Perspectives of 20th Century Paintings, April - June 1988, cat. no. 225, p. 291, illustrated
Through the genius of Chuck Close, portraiture – that most traditional of artistic genres - returns with full force to the forefront of Twentieth Century art, as the artist chooses this seemingly straight-forward subject matter to produce an oeuvre of extraordinary complexity. For over 35 years, Close has painted friends and fellow artists, yet his intent is not to record likenesses but to work within a discipline in which he can investigate the process of art. Based on a photograph of his subject, Close creates a proscribed arena in which he can experiment with various medium, scale, palette and technique within the schematic format of the grid. Painstakingly transferring a photographic source, square by square, to another surface, Close deconstructs the nature of perception and ironically finds liberation and flexibility through strict methodology. One of the most important composers of the late 20th century, Philip Glass is one of Close’s favorite subjects, beginning with the monumental 1969 black and white acrylic painting (Collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York) and continuing through over twenty works, all based on the same original photograph. The two artists shared an affinity in their respective fields, both noted for the repetition of basic or repeated forms whose initial simplicity gives way to complex works of art. As Lisa Lyons noted, the photograph of Phil also appealed to Close graphically as ``its complex array of shadows, highlights, eccentric shapes, and edges, allows for extensive formal invention in a wide range of media. The resulting works …form a lexicon of his styles and techniques’’ (L. Lyons and R. Storr, Chuck Close, New York, 1987, p. 92). Phil (Portrait of Philip Glass) from 1983 is one of five unique wet pulp paper works from the early 1980s, the penultimate result of his endeavors in pulp paper multiples and collages.
Close revelled in the pliability and texture of the wet pulp paper material and began to adapt it to canvas. As with his paintings, the image is transferred to the canvas by pencil grid, with each unit keyed to one of approximately 20 tones of black, grey and white. Phil and Georgia are the two largest works in the group, realized on the monumental scale of 8 x 6 feet. Close described his working technique in wet pulp paper with the execution of Georgia, a portrait of the artist’s daughter. ``The canvas was placed on the floor, and I was lying on my stomach on a rolling scaffolding, a few inches above the canvas – just the opposite of Michelangelo working on the Sistine Ceiling …I would yell out the number of the pulp that I needed for a particular area, and someone would reach into the appropriate bucket, strain the pulp, make it into a patty shape and toss it to me. I’d plop it down on the canvas, then they’d roll me to another spot on the canvas and we’d repeat the process with the next color’’ (Ibid., p. 36). Although the image of Philip Glass is thus deconstructed into discrete units of shaded tones, Close’s incremental manner of execution, unit by unit, facture by facture, is unified by the viewer, as is reminiscent of the optical experiments of Pointillism and Post-Impressionism. Viewed from a distance, the textured, dematerialized image of this tour-de-force work optically merges back into a recognizable, three-dimensional likeness of Philip Glass with form and shadow.
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