Chuck Close is a leading figure in the photorealism movement, creating huge portraits of himself, his friends and his family. He became a wheelchair user in the late 1980’s, radically developing his artistic techniques alongside, but as Jo Verrent explores, his connection to disability started much earlier than that…
4 November 2011
I went to the Ludwig museum in Budapest, to explore an exhibition entitled East of Eden, Photorealism: Versions of Reality  Two of the images were particularly arresting – both were huge close up portraits of a face. From a distance, they appeared indistinguishable from a photograph yet up close you could see the individual brush marks that work together to create the whole.
Both were by an artist named Chuck Close, a prolific American artist who has repeatedly redefined his own technique, adapting and refocusing what he does and how he does it to push himself into new territory.
So what is he known for? He is a leading figure in the photorealism movement, a genre of painting which references photography – its artworks are often based on photographic images, and the paintings themselves appear realistic, like a photograph, especially when seen at a distance. The movement began in the late 1960s with Chuck Close firmly established as one of the principal exponents. Close typically begins with a photograph of a face, creating a painting or print through a complex grid-based reconstruction of the image that he accomplishes by hand. One of his most iconic images, the Big Self Portrait - a black and white enlargement of his face to a 2.73 m by 2.12 m on canvas, which he made over four months in 1968 - is so finely done that even a full page reproduction in an art book is still indistinguishable from a regular photograph.
As a young artist, Chuck Close understood that he had a talent, and also that he had choices about how he used this talent. In the mid 60s, he made a choice to make art harder for himself by abandoning using a paintbrush and utilizing tools such as an airbrush, rags, razor blade, and a rubber mounted on a power drill. Why? To push his practice into new directions and force a personal artistic breakthrough.
"I threw away my tools", Close said. "I chose to do things I had no facility with. The choice not to do something is in a funny way more positive than the choice to do something. If you impose a limit to not do something you've done before, it will push you to where you've never gone before." 
So why is Chuck Close here in a series of articles about the creative expression of disabled artists?
1. ‘East of Eden’ at Ludwig Museum, Budapest, September 14, 2011. - January 15, 2012. http://www.ludwigmuseum.hu
2. Norman, M. Contemporary Art Legend Chuck Close Talks About Painting, The Plain Dealer, September 1, 2009