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Up Close and Personal

Talking with Chuck Close as a retrospective of his work opens at the Corcoran Gallery of Art

Image by Chris Leaman.

Chuck Close doesn’t do commissions. “My subjects are my best friends and family and artists that I have a relationship with,” he says. “With a subject, I’m trying to figure out who they are, and I have to commit their faces to memory, so having a relationship with them is important.”

Image by Chris Leaman.

Close’s approach to portraits—both meticulously planned and organic—is at the heart of “Chuck Close Prints: Process and Collaboration,” a traveling exhibition that opens Saturday at the Corcoran Gallery of Art. Starting with his very first print (unplanned grids began to appear, inspiring much of his later process) and spanning multiple later works and techniques, the show offers fascinating insight into the development of Close’s art and the ways he uses the confines of the print medium as a basis for creativity rather than treating those boundaries as limitations. Discarded paper clippings from one print become the materials for another. Everyday objects, mundane in nature, provide inspiration for future techniques: Close’s printing tools include the grid casing from a fluorescent light, a jigsaw, and what appears to be a giant cookie cutter.

Image courtesy the Corcoran.

Close is perhaps best known for his large-scale, photorealistic images, on display everywhere from the National Gallery of Art to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. But his luminous prints offer a much more revealing look at his obsession with process than his paintings do. Although some of his past subjects (Philip Glass, Kate Moss) have been recognizable in their own right, the faces he captures all seem to share a common sensibility—a sort of upfront, warts-and-all honesty. “Everything comes from the photograph first,” says Terrie Sultan, the exhibition’s organizing curator. “Chuck takes the photo, and then he grids the face out in some way. Then he tries to translate the spirit of the image with an integer of the right size. Scale has a lot to do with it—he wants it to be difficult.”

Image by Chris Leaman

“Process and Collaboration” runs through September 12, and Saturday tickets are free all summer as part of the Corcoran’s Summer Saturdays program. Close, a presidential adviser on the arts, is in town to give interviews and address museum members this evening. A frequent Washington visitor, he likes to visit the Vermeers at the National Gallery. But he declines to pick a favorite from his own exhibition. “It’s like children,” he says. “You can’t have favorites.”

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