Exhibition Review: Chuck Close – Prints, Process and Collaboration


The exhibition of American artist Chuck Close – Prints, Process and Collaboration is in its final days at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) in Sydney. The exhibition is curated by MCA consulting curator Glenn Barkley with American curator Terrie Sultan of New York’s Parrish Art Museum. It is the first large collection of Close’s work to be shown in Australia, and well worth visiting before it ends.

The accompanying exhibition material includes videos taken at Close’s studio discussing his art practice. The videos also reveal an amazing human story of determination. Close has a rare condition called prosopagnosia or ‘face blindness’ which kept him from recognizing other people. Later in life he became paralyzed due to a collapsed spinal artery. Determined to continue working, he went on to design his studio so that he could continue to make art despite his disabilities.

During the 1960s, Close was already a well-established artist and worked alongside specialists particularly in the field of print making. He has continued this collaborative process, and has adopted a wide variety of techniques including etching, aquatint, lithography, handmade paper, silkscreen, traditional Japanese woodcut, and reduction linocut. Despite the incredible breadth of his techniques and varied collaborative partners, each work is clearly of his oeuvre, a testament to the discipline and self-imposed limitations applied to each work.

Close intentionally selected portraiture as his focus in the 1960’s when it was commonly considered irrelevant to the art world due to the progression of technological devices such as cameras. His portraits, or ‘heads’ as he calls them, gaze directly at the viewer, often controlled or disinterested. Close then uses photographs of his subjects, frequently artists and celebrities to create the portraits. The work is laid out on a grid; each square contains a piece of the puzzle that then makes up the whole. These abstracted units of the grid strip away the subjective gaze, asking the viewer to reassemble it for themselves. This process of reassembly is interactive, the reference grid, abstract pattern and colours allow us to reinterpret the information afresh.

Close employs a variety of tools and materials to make his work. Fingerprints translated to direct gravure, handstamps, paper pushed through mesh onto board, yarn woven into textile works, and his imaginative use of techniques seems boundless. This variety of techniques creates a vibrancy to the work, despite the restricted subject matter, his ‘heads’ are anything but boring.

A common thread in Close’s work is the precisely controlled application of colour, often a result of the mechanical printing processes used. Close has a deep understanding of how to build up and control colour in print. A work that appears to be just a few shades of grey, may actually be built from hundreds of colours. The print processes are also on display in the exhibition, revealing how Close is able to both deconstruct and build up each work. His impressive ‘heads’ often emerge in reverse, working highlights from a dark ground. In the complex process of his work Keith/Mezzotint (1972), the figure at is both revealed and covered using the black of the mezzotint.

In an interview with Terrie Sultan, Close describes himself as wanting to have been a magician, but ruined his chances by revealing how the trick was done. Prints, Process, and Collaboration shares Close’s ‘box of tricks’, however the expertise with which he handles each medium reveals a masterful level of control not easily replicated. This exhibition showcased Close’s mastery of illusion, and provided a reminder that creativity benefits from the use of all the tools at ones disposal, Close asks each one of them to do more than we believed possible.

The exhibition runs until the 15th March, for more information go to http://www.mca.com.au/exhibition/chuck-close-prints-process-and-collaboration/

Reviewed by Kerry after her visit to the MCA.

Exhibition, Chuck Close – Prints, Process and Collaboration 2015, Museum of Contemporary Art Limited, http://www.mca.com.au/exhibition/chuck-close-prints-process-and-collaboration/

Koloff, S 2014, Chuck Close, face-blind portrait painter, Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

McDonald, J 2015, ‘Chuck Close prints at Museum of Contemporary Art require so much more than a glance’, Sydney Morning Herald, http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/spectrum-now-2015/chuck-close-prints-at-museum-of-contemporary-art-require-so-much-more-than-a-glance-20141118-11oev3.html

%d bloggers like this: