02 December 2010

Chuck Close at the MFA

One of two books recently published about Chuck Close, by Christopher Finch.

On October 14, 2010, DH, son and I enjoyed a sold-out presentation at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, a conversation between writer Christopher Finch and artist Chuck Close. Usually the format of this lecture series is that a single person talks at the worshipful audience; this dyad varied the tenor and made me think that perhaps all gifted celebrities should consider bringing a verbal foil with them to such events. Mr. Close has an easy conversational manner, but the engagement with Mr. Finch, who enjoys a long association with Mr. Close, meant the evening never lagged or foundered.

Detail, self-portrait.

Throughout his work Mr. Close has utilized the grid, first as a diagramming device in the planning stage of his so-called photo-realist works, but later as an overt feature of his portraits. These works, which don't reproduce a likeness so much as invent a new way to see it, are to me much more interesting. Mr. Close won my heart when mentioning what he calls (I paraphrase) the general undervaluing of traditional women's work, and gave as an example the beautiful crochet tablecloths made by his grandmother. She crocheted hundreds of individual squares, stitched them together, and finally starched the textiles using sugar (yes, sugar - anyone heard of this process?). Mr. Close reflected that he had grown up viewing large items painstakingly constructed of many small squares, and had no doubt that this influenced his own work.

Detail, Amish quilt from Amish: The Art of the Quilt, text by Robert Hughes.

Finding endless possibilities in the restriction imposed by a grid is nothing new, as generations of quilters know. Sometimes restrictions, whether external or self-imposed, provide the best scaffolding for exploration.

Another portrait from Chuck Close: Work.
Grids can also be radial, as well as rectilinear.

Mr. Close and Mr. Finch, signing books.

After the talk, Mr. Close and Mr. Finch were kind enough to sign our books; unfortunately the MFA gift shop ran out of the Chuck Close: Work book, but I had purchased mine before the talk. It would make a nice holiday present: Isbn 978-7913-4466-9. Of course it's a big, heavy book - why are art books so often physically unwieldy? - but opens a wide window on one artist's process. There's a companion biography by Mr. Finch, but I haven't looked at that closely yet.