So Close yet so far away

Chuck Close has been represented by the White Cube gallery in London since 1999, a couple of decades after his success spiraled in the New York galleries. His work is still vastly exhibited in New York, mainly in Mid-town Manhattan, not just in the large galleries but also in the smaller, inconspicuous ones scattered around Madison Avenue. It is worth seeing the exhibition currently on at the White Cube in London, while it's here, even if it means having to make a trip to Bermondsey. The gallery space is big and airy, perfect for Chuck Close's work. Chuck Close has such a great name that I do not even feel compelled to refer to him just as 'Close' hereafter. 

Chuck Close, self-portrait

Anyway, Chuck Close produces massive portraits - larger than life portraits - some of which are incredibly realistic. He is affiliated with photo-realism, a movement that sprang up in the late 1960s and early 1970s in America and Europe. The movement was an offshoot of pop art, dominated by painters who essentially gave a visual ode to photography by basing their paintings on photographs. Photo-realists work so closely with a photograph at hand, that at first glance their finished pieces look astonishingly photographic. 

There are certain things you get when painting from a photograph that you do not get when painting from its equivalent still life. That's why there is no point in arguing that one practice is superior to the other. I suppose this is what I find most interesting about photo-realism, which prompts me to paint distorted photographs that capture surreal effects. Chuck Close appears to have been taken by pixels - the 'pixelated' self. Our minds instinctively accept photographs as a form of reality, and in print photographs are made up of thousands of pixels, in four colours (cyan, magenta, yellow and black).

Chuck Close focuses on the blur of a photograph, and creates all his prints and paintings by hand. You can learn about some of his methods at the exhibition, and gain an insight into the print-making process. The grid method is used to preserve accuracy - but do not for a second assume he relies on computers. He is far too earthy for that. After his physical collapse in 1988, which he calls 'the event', he carried on painting by strapping a paintbrush to his wrist. It should be noted that he often takes an experimental approach to layering paint onto surfaces, at one point abandoning the paintbrush entirely. Instead, he used his fingers and stamp prints, waiting for each layer to dry before commencing another over it. 

The experience you get of Chuck Close can be quite technical. The very pixelated, dotted portraits are almost abstract and strip away the possibility of an emotional connection with the subject. The sharper images look more consolidated, but either way it depends on how far back you are standing. The irony is that Chuck Close has prosopagnosia - the inability to recognise faces - yet he spends so much time representing faces, taking close up pictures of them. He describes his portraits as having ‘a sharp focus data within a sandwich of blur’. Perhaps commonly known to us as being so close yet so far away. Exhibition on until 21st April.