About the Artist
Chuck Close is an American photorealist portrait painter who has overcome learning disabilities, paralysis and the inability to recognize faces in order to pursue his art.
Early Life and Education
Chuck Close was born in Monroe, Washington in 1940. His father, Leslie Close, worked at a hardware store and also as a sheet metal worker when Close was born. He later found employment with the Army Air Corps and moved the family to Tacoma, where he died when Close was just 11 years old. After the death of his father, Close and his mother moved to Everett, Washington, in a house next door to his grandparents. His mother, Mildred Close, was a pianist, who had given lessons at home but had to find work outside the home after her husband died.
Close did poorly in school, except in art classes. He is dyslexic, has a neurological condition that did not allow him to run and suffers from prosopagnosia, or face blindness, which is the inability to recognize faces.
To make up for his disabilities, Close did drawings along with his school assignments, to try to convince his teachers that he was trying to learn and put on puppet shows for other children in order to make friends. Close struggled though high school, managed to graduate and attended Everett Community College, where he excelled. He transferred to the University of Washington, where he graduated summa cum laude.
In 1961, he won a scholarship to the Yale Summer School of Music and Art and received his MFA from Yale in 1964. From Yale he went to Europe to study at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna on a Fulbright scholarship and returned to the U.S. to teach art at the University of Massachusetts. In 1967, Close moved to New York and set up a studio in SoHo.
Career and Family
While at Yale, Close was influenced by the works of Willem de Koonig and emulated his style. Close said that when he finally met de Kooning he said to him, “It’s really nice to meet somebody who’s made a few more de Koonings than I’ve made.”
Close turned from copying de Koonings to painting from photographs using a grid. He said that the reasons he does portraits is to commit to memory the faces of people. His portraits are not commissioned, but are the faces of family, friends and often, his own face.
Close was married to Leslie Rose for 42 years. She had been his student when he taught at the University of Massachusetts. The couple have two daughters and separated in 2009. His current wife is artist Sienna Shields.
In 1988, Close suffered a seizure that left him paralyzed. After much physical and occupational therapy he now paints sitting in his electric wheelchair with a brush attached to his hand by a velcro strap.
Close received the National Medal of Arts from President Bill Clinton in 200 and in 2010, was appointed by President Barack Obama to the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities. His works are in the permanent collections of the MoMA, the Whitney, the Tate Modern , the Centre Georges Pompidou and other major museums around the world.
The Broad Art Foundation bought John at Sotheby’s in 2005 for $4.8 million.