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Chuck Close, Keith, 1970–1972

Close Burnishing plate for Keith

Chuck Close burnishing the plate for Keith, 1972, photograph by Kathan Brown, Courtesy Crown Point Press

Close’s first project at Crown Point Press was a massive-scale, labor-intensive mezzotint, an antiquated printmaking technique he had never attempted. In mezzotint, an artist roughens the plate’s surface so that it will print as a velvety black, then “draws” with a burnishing tool to smooth areas that will hold less ink and print lighter. Close squared up a 1970 photograph and incised a corresponding grid on the copperplate to facilitate enlargement and transfer.

Keith Proof Impression

Proof impressions of Keith, 1972, photograph by Kathan Brown, Courtesy Crown Point Press

Because he had difficulty seeing his marks on the shiny metallic surface and because he was learning by trial and error, numerous proofs (see photograph at left) had to be pulled frequently to monitor progress. As a result, the center of the plate degraded and the grid became more visible. Close retained the grid as evidence of his process, a seminal choice for his subsequent work in all media. “After finishing Keith, I started doing [works] in which the incremental unit was visible and ultimately celebrated in a million different ways. That all came from making this print.”

Banner image: Detail, Chuck Close, Keith (working proof), 1972, mezzotint, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Foundation purchase, Phyllis C. Wattis Fund for Major Acquisitions, © Chuck Close, Courtesy Pace Gallery

Next: Chuck Close, John, 1972