Chuck Close: The Art School Staple

Though art is subjective, there are names we will never forget. Vincent van Gogh, Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dalí – whether you like their works or not, you definitely know who they are. That is the status that artist Chuck Close is getting. 

Like many of the greats, Close has had his fair share of difficulties and then some. Born in 1940 in Monroe, Washington, Close had severe dyslexia, which he knew nothing about until attending a lecture with his daughter in the ‘70s. That’s 30+ years of not knowing what was wrong with him. This means that Close couldn’t add, subtract or do those multiplication tables we all learned early on in school. However, he managed to keep up as he explained to the New York news and events paper Village Voice, he would have dropped out of school had it not been for his arts classes.

Close kept going, but didn’t just stay in school, he actually succeeded. He holds his B.A. from Seattle’s University of Washington and an MFA from Yale (yes, the Yale).

Beyond all of that, there was art. Close explained with independent arts, culture and political paper Brooklyn Rail that he remembers very distinctly what made him so interested in art. He saw a Jackson Pollock painting visiting a museum when he was 11 and it drove him absolutely mad. He couldn’t believe that was considered art.

Soon enough, he was dripping paint all over his canvases.

“That’s the greatest moment in an artist’s life. Whatever you hold as true to art is being challenged; you sort of recoil and it gets under your skin and just keeps bothering you until you understand what the issues are. After all, painting is just colored dirt smeared on flat surfaces, on wood panels, canvases,” Close said with Brooklyn Rail.

From that point on, Close was chasing that feeling- a challenge that needed to be met. In 1988, Close experienced a spinal artery collapse leaving him partially paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair. Aside from the dyslexia and paralysis, Close also has prosopagnosia – a condition rendering the brain unable to recognize faces. Instead of being discouraged, these events have made his art what it is. When he paints, he has to strap the brushes to his wrists. Close’s main work is in portraits. Tons of pieces put together like a mosaic that all make one, slightly blurry face until you step into just the right spot where everything is in perfect focus.

“These are images that really matter, and I want to commit them to memory and the only way I can really do that is to flatten them out, scan them, make these drawings and paintings and prints. And then they enter my memory bank in a different sort of way,” Close explained in an interview with PBS.

 

The best way to describe Chuck Close is determined. The obstacles that he has had to face are by themselves remarkable, but that’s one of the best things about art. If you take a look at his portraits, you don’t see that he was injured and dyslexic. You don’t even see that he’s making these prints to remember what the face looks like. All you see is art.

-Geneva Toddy