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Chuck Close (1940–2021), acclaimed photorealistic painter

by Linnea Crowther

Chuck Close was a celebrated artist known for his large-scale portraits, some of which were composed of many tiny paintings arranged as pixels.

Renowned artist

Close was among the best-known artists of his era, with a large body of work centered on huge portraits of friends, fellow artists, and celebrities. Some are all but indistinguishable from photographs. Others are photorealistic from a distance, but upon closer inspection become pixelated into hundreds or thousands of tiny paintings. Close experimented with his pixilation style, composing one work with fingerprints from an ink pad and another from handmade paper pulp. He scanned thousands of his tiny paintings into a computer and digitally arranged them to create larger portraits.

Close revealed that he had prosopagnosia, or face blindness, a difficulty in recognizing faces of even those he saw regularly. He speculated that he was drawn to paint portraits because of this. In 1988. Close experienced a spinal artery collapse that left him paralyzed from the neck down. He later regained limited movement and relearned how to paint, though he used a wheelchair for the rest of his life. In 2017 and 2018, several woman accused Close of making vulgar comments as they posed for him in his studio. Close apologized for the comments, and an exhibition of his art planned to run at the National Gallery of Art was closed in response to the allegations.


Notable quote

“My art has been greatly influenced by having a brain that sees, thinks, and accesses information very differently from other people’s. I was not conscious of making a decision to paint portraits because I have difficulty recognizing faces. That occurred to me 20 years after the fact when I looked at why I was still painting portraits, why that still had urgency for me. I began to realize that it has sustained me for so long because I have difficulty in recognizing faces.” —from a 1995 interview for Bomb

Tributes to Chuck Close

Full obituary: The New York Times

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