Friday, September 11, 2009

On Why Chuck Close is Famous and Mug Shots

From: Navigating the Self
Chuck Close discusses portraiture and the topography of the face
Chuck Close/Siri Engberg/Madeleine Grynsztejn
July 2005

Chuck Close: From the very beginning, what I wanted to do was mitigate against the standard hierarchy of the portrait. It goes back to the Walker’s self-portrait. . . . If you think about the late 1960s, painting was dead, sculpture ruled. Painting seemed like a senseless activity. If you were dumb enough to make a painting, it had better be abstract. It was even dumber to make a representational image. Then the dumbest, most moribund, out-of-date, and shopworn of all possible things you could do was make a portrait. I remember Clement Greenberg said to [Willem] de Kooning that the only thing you can’t do in art anymore is make a portrait. I thought, well, if Greenberg thinks he can’t do it, then I am going to have a lot of operating room all to myself. But of course, he didn’t consider Warhol a painter. [He] had been making portraits and was essentially a portrait painter, if you think about it. He made his in one quick squeegee stroke and I made mine piece by piece over a long period of time, so the approach and the attitude and everything was very different. And I didn’t want to do celebrities; he owned movie stars and all that stuff. I wanted Everyman and Everywoman, just regular folks, most of whom went ahead and got famous on me. I thought absolutely about the mug shot as a way around commissioned portraiture.

I thought the most important thing about postwar American painting—the overriding issue—was a sense of “alloverness.” Whether it was Pollock’s skeinlike ribbons of paint in which there really was no difference from the left edge to the right edge . . . [or] Stella’s black stripe paintings that just kept going. If you were an ant crawling across it, there were no areas that were thicker, thinner, whatever—this commitment to the whole rectangle. Now, I wanted to overlay on top of the portrait that commitment to the whole, to the rectangle, and make every piece as important as every other piece. Then I thought, well, the police have a reason they make a mug shot. It gives you the most information about that subject that you can have. They want to find them and arrest them. And they get them straight on, and they get a profile. All of my early portraits are dead-straight on.

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