An artist of immense invention and versatility, Chuck Close has had a long and rich history with the medium of photography. He first began to use found photographs in 1965, only two years after receiving his MFA from Yale University. Entranced with photography’s precise details as well as its cool, black-and-white tonal range, he quickly started to make his own photographs, employing them as models on which he based his photorealist portraits and nudes. In 1979 he began to explore the possibilities offered by the large, 20-by-24-inch Polaroid camera and made a series of composite portraits, each of which consists of many separate Polaroid photographs. These were not intended as studies for subsequent paintings but as works of art in their own right. "It was the first time," Close said, "that I considered myself a photographer."
Close has been making daguerreotypes since 1997. Like so many others, he has been fascinated with the almost magical quality of daguerreotypes—their luminosity and intimacy, and the way the image appears and disappears on the highly polished mirrorlike surface, requiring the viewer’s active participation to see it. Although the process is intensely laborious (and potentially toxic), Close works with a skilled daguerreotypist, Jerry Spagnoli, and, as with the Polaroid process, he is able to see results in a matter of minutes. This allows both Close and his subjects—usually family and friends—to make subtle adjustments to refine and perfect his work.
Although he has made many distinguished daguerreotypes in the years since 1997, this portrait of the artist Kara Walker is truly exceptional. Close has come to realize, as he wrote, that most traditional portraits focus on "those key areas of the face which control likeness, while the skin, neck, hair, and background are not considered of primary importance....I wanted to make those areas almost as interesting and important as the symbolic areas of the face." By backlighting Walker’s head and allowing her darkened hair and profile to stand out in sharp contrast to the glowing background, Close constructed an image that reads as a silhouette. It is a work that eloquently evokes—and pays tribute to—Walker’s own powerful art and her use of large-scale black paper silhouettes to explore issues of race and gender, sexuality and violence. It also demonstrates that both Close and Walker have reinvigorated older processes, allowing us to understand their historical resonances in new and innovative ways.
on verso of plate, signed by artist across upper center in black marker: "Kara" / 2007 / Chuck Close; by unknown hand, upper right in black marker on white sticker: CC. DG. 259; bottom center: ph107 13 05
Chuck Close; (Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York); private collection, New York; NGA purchase (through Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York), 2011.
- The Memory of Time: Contemporary Photographs at the National Gallery of Art, Acquired with the Alfred H. Moses and Fern M. Schad Fund, National Gallery of Art, Washington, 2015, no. 1.