To someone who loves art, walking into a gallery and seeing stimulating art is inspiring and uplifting. However, at times, it can be intimidating when you’re trying to emulate success for yourself. When Chuck Close started his career, like a lot of artists he was affected by the best art of the time. De Kooning became a massive influence on Close’s earlier work. De Kooning stirred Close into practising his style and technique.
It all started so well. After several years, Close had De Kooning’s style and technique down to a tee. However, Close struggled when he realised that when people stood in front of his work, they thought of De Kooning. When he realised that he quickly hit a crisis point. He felt he needed to throw everything out and start again. Every stroke and splash of colour that was influenced by De Kooning had to go. This was not Close’s own unique style. His work had to be purged of De Kooning.
At first, Close wasn’t sure where to start. However, through journalling Close came up with an answer. He decided to start with the fundamental question; What is painting?
He wrote; “It is coloured dirt smeared on a flat surface stretched around some wooden sticks. It is for me the most magical of all mediums. You smear that colour dirt, and it makes space where there is no space. It allows you to make associations with life experiences that you have had. It can even make you cry, and it is just coloured dirt smeared on a flat surface.”He continued, realising; “That magical transience is so rooted in process. No painting got made without a process. So paintings have more evidence of what happened and how it happened. There is touch, or every attempt to remove touch and the hand and make it appear like an apparition, just floated on to the canvas. Have you any idea how a Veneer gets made? If you look at it, it is magic. Usually embedded in the painting is all the evidence of its own making. What we can call its physicality.”
Close came to the conclusion that if he was going to start again, he needed to make sure that no one else’s work was relevant.
“We often don’t know what we want to do, but we sure as hell know what we don’t want to do. So the choice not to do something is often more important than the choice to do something.”
Ed Reinhardt became Close’s new hero. Reinhardt had made a list of the things he couldn’t do anymore into a positive and forward-looking decision. He titled it “Twelve Rules for a New Academy” in a statement intending to “render art pure”. Close took on board Reinhardt theory and purged his bad habits.
He changed his equipment and decided to use photography as a reference and as a starting point. The first of Close’s new paintings were large black and white portraits. He developed a process to make a mirror image of the photos. Close followed his series of paintings with a sequence of strict rules for the use of colour.
He first covered his canvas in a grid formation. Then using a die transfer colour separation technique Close knew how much red, blue and yellow each grid of the framework contained. Through experimenting Close realised that if he painted a series of incorrect colours first, then used the correct colours on top, no one area would become more important than the next. By developing his rigid process, Close’s art was genuinely purged of De Kooning. He had developed his own unique style.
He stated that “You can put yourself into a position where you really are functioning in a very intuitive way. It is about following your nose. The word craft is despised and ridiculed, but this phase associated with women’s work, like knitting and making quilts, is ideal when you’re a nervous wreck, and you choose not to reinvent the wheel every day. Having the outlook that today I will do what I did yesterday, tomorrow I am going to do what I did today, and if I stay there long enough, if you knit one and purl two long enough and believe in it you get a sweater.”
What surprised Close the most was that his new approach was an extremely satisfying process. It allowed Close to be more intuitive and inventive than ever before. By making the same shapes over and over again and using the same colours over and over again the permutation allowed him to purge his art. As a consequence Close had fallen more in love with the process of painting.
“When I was free to make anything, I ended up making the same shapes over and over. The same colours over and over. By giving yourselves to a process like that has allowed me to permutation more change more invention more intuition than I ever had before.” Chuck Close.
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