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Excerpt: 'The Contact Sheet'

by Steve Crist, editor
Dec 3, 2009

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Under Chuck Close, portraiture is a constantly evolving art form — from classic black-and-white images to colorful and brightly patterned canvases.

Close began painting from photographs in the late 1960s, using a technique devised by Renaissance masters and adapted by contemporary billboard painters: overlaying a print or photograph with a numbered and lettered grid, and then reproducing the image block by block. Close uses this method to produce works ranging from large-scale paintings to intimate drawings. He also creates portraits using printmaking techniques such as etching, woodcut, linoleum block printing, and screen-printing.

Big Self Portrait was a watershed painting for Close, and his first self-portrait. It was the first piece in a group of eight black-and-white "heads," a group of paintings that would propel his rise to fame and set the course for his working method.

"I had just finished working on a twenty-two-foot-long nude and had extra film left, so I turned the camera on me. I decided that even though the nude was twenty-two feet long, the scale still wasn't big enough, and so I decided to focus on just a part of the body, and of course, the head was the most obvious piece. I was the only one in the room, so I photographed myself.

"I wanted to make an image that was so big that it couldn't readily be seen as a whole from a close distance. It would force the viewer to scan the surface and to treat the face almost like a landscape. I shot it from below as if it was a huge head, like the Easter Island heads. I was thinking about Gulliver's Travels, about the world of Lilliputians going on the head of the giant, knowing everything they thought there was to know, but still not knowing that they were on the head of a giant — stumbling across an eyebrow or nostril. It would be more like an experience of travel, a journey, rather than just looking at the image as a whole."

From The Contact Sheet, edited by Steve Crist. Copyright 2009 by Steve Crist. Published by AMMO Books. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.

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