Australian Fine Artist

Chuck Close

Video Presentation at TAFE

Portraiture “Photo Realism” to “Abstraction” on a Large Scale

The paintings of Chuck Close prove that what looks like a photo realistic painting from a distance, can be something very different when you get up close (no pun intended on his name by the way).


Chuck, who is now in his seventies, I believe, is an inspiration. Over a decade ago he was struck down with paralysis in his legs and arms that would have stopped most artists in their tracks. Rather than giving up, he has worked out ways of continuing his painting career by creating a method of raising and lowering his very large canvasses to work on from a wheel chair and a support for his hand to allow him to hold a brush. With assistants to clean brushes, move items around and do the general work in the studio and great support from his wife, Chuck has been able to continue being a successful and very creative artist.

From the near photo realistic earlier works Chuck has developed a style of painting that starts with careful photo shoots where the lighting and composition are worked out. From here large format colour prints are created and the grids are marked up for referencing on the larger painting. When the canvas is ready his assistants mark up the canvas with a scaled up version of the grid, matching the proportions of the colour print. With each segment numbered and lettered, Chuck is able to gradually work his way through each painting from top to bottom, one little segment at a time.

For this process, a great understanding of tonal and colour theory is required to put in the patterns and variety of colour in the right tone, to build up an image of a face. The colours are varied and often don’t have much to do with the colours on the print, however the tones are correct for the lighting.

As Chuck blocks in the painting the base is filled in and prepared for the following layering of patterns and colours. This may take a few layers from what we saw, so that the general impression of a face is created. What the result is, over a few months of work, is a painting that up close reminded me of pointillism, or post impressionist paintings, where individual colours are laid in next to each other to blend with each other in the eye of the viewer at a distance giving a different impression of subject and colour. The difference in this case is that rather than uniform dots or dashes, lines or strokes, each little segment has a unique pattern of its own, be it circles, squares, lines or a combination of these plus loads of other shapes that suit the area he is working on.

The resulting work from Chuck’s method of painting is painterly and atmospheric. The character of the person is captured as well as taking away the “from a photo” look that can come across when artists work from a photographic reference. The bold use of colour and fluid application of paint with juxtaposed warm and cool colours give a vibrancy and life to the paintings which would not be achieved with standard applications in tonal realist paintings. The paint still seems to move on the surface, breathing life into the faces.

Seeing an artist working in their studio, as this video does is something that many artists would not allow, so this insight into the creative process of Chuck Close was very enlightening.

What Do I take Away from This Video?

No matter what may come your way in life, if you have a passion, like painting and there is any way you can keep doing it, you should try. Seeing artists who overcome paralysis, lack of limbs, partial blindness or other ailments that stop many is inspiring.

From the video today I come away with more determination to keep working, to keep improving and creating. Chuck has been painting for several decades and his work is still fresh, creative and marketable. Some artists nearly die with brush still in hand as if they dropped “off the perch” mid stroke (what a way to go). It is a part of what we are not so much what we do, even though the two are intertwined.

Surround yourself with people who are like-minded and who support you in your journey as an artist, keep fresh, keep enthusiastic and keep going is what I thought as the video ended.

My thanks to Bill, our tutor for bringing in this interesting and inspiring video for us to enjoy and learn from.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: