Editor's note: The Davidson College Galleries provided source material to Resource Library Magazine for the following essay, which is rekeyed and reprinted with permission of Davidson College Galleries. A full color brochure that includes the essay by Ms. Lambla is available at the Winter 2004 exhibition tilted Chuck Close: Prints and Process. If you have questions or comments regarding the essay or wish to obtain a copy of the brochure, please contact the Davidson College Galleries directly through either this phone number or web address:
Chuck Close: Prints and Process
by June Lambla
Multiple marks, whether they are brush strokes, thumbprints, blobs of paper pulp, precise lines, or scribbles, coalesce to create an image of a human face. Each image by Chuck Close is one of multiple interpretations of a particular artist colleague, family member, or friend. The mystique of multiples partially explains his propensity to make prints, and the prints themselves inform his life's work. Printmaking is an ideal medium for Close's method of exploring a repeated image with a predetermined system of marks. Mezzotints, soft and hard ground etchings, aquatints, lithographs, woodcuts, reduction linocuts, screenprints, and paper pulp multiples . . . each printmaking process is capable of making a unique type of mark. Close dissects each of these processes almost to the point of abstraction and exaggerates its marks. The technique or stratagem becomes the content or subject of his work.
Since the 1960s, Chuck Close has experimented with his now well-known format of a frontal depiction of a face. His early, monumental paintings were based on a photograph of an ordinary face with precise details in a shallow depth of field. They have been called realist for obvious reasons. The work has also been described as formalist because of its relatively flat picture plane, gridded structure, and focus on materials. Close predetermines an organization or system of repetitive marks in his images, illustrating his work's conceptual nature. This sense of kinship to conceptual artists is strongest, evident in the almost mathematical approach to detailing a total perception. Close then investigates various alternatives to completing the devised system. Much of this experimentation involves exploring prints.
"Virtually everything that has happened in my unique work can be traced back to the prints," Close explains in an interview with Blaffer Gallery Director and Curator Terrie Sultan (Chuck Close Prints: Process and Collaboration, Princeton University Press, 2003). Keith, the mezzotint produced at Crown Point Press in 1972, was seminal to the subsequent direction of his work. Previously his paintings had been constructed using a grid structure, painting individual segments of the image that ultimately mesh into a perceived face. In this first print attempted by Close since graduate school, the exposure of the grid structure was left apparent showing the process, not a hidden artifice anymore. Initially unplanned, this result instigated many more experiments. The individual units or segments of marks would remain evident and indeed become exaggerated in later paintings and prints.
Close again developed a new direction in his paintings after his first experiment with wood block prints. A tendency toward a more painterly depiction of his subjects was realized in the preparatory watercolors for Leslie, the woodcut produced in Japan with Crown Point Press in 1986. The spirited, gestural marks have continued in his paintings and other forms of prints.
The collaborative process in the print studio is important to Close for mutual discoveries. Printers have had to develop alternative methods with less predictable results, opening the experimentation to all involved. The traditional woodcut process used in Leslie and again for Emma in 2002 required change within the collaborative process itself. Close had to relinquish some control in the making of the blocks, not unlike conceptual artists relinquishing the mark-making after dictating precise directions. Close finds greatest satisfaction in the final stages of proofing, fine tuning color and balance. Since the late 1970s, a majority of Close's prints have been published by Pace Prints in myriad media. These projects have expanded the boundaries of linoleum cuts, silk-screens, and paper pulp multiples and inspired a continuum of projects. State prints of the reduction linocut Self-Portrait I, 1997 inspired the large paper pulp self-portraits in 2001. Left over pulp debris was incorporated into collage work that morphed into more eccentric paper pulp multiples. "Mistakes" are not abandoned but are used to challenge Close in his collaborations with printers and publishers. Press problems, material breakage, even physical limitations add to the parameters that promote creative solutions and new ideas. Close again shared his thoughts with Sultan, "That is one of the things about collaboration. Everybody's ideas add to the process. Always something goes wrong. Always, always. And there is always a solution. It just may not be the preconceived route."
Close challenges himself by investigating new media and new systems of creating images. Close challenges the viewers' very perceptions of a "face" by the techniques he investigates. He certainly challenges the master printers in their perceptions of their trade, their apprenticed methods. The prints are Chuck Close's inspiration to exaggerate or exhaust the possibilities or opportunities in all his work.
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