Unraveling the Enigma of Chuck Close

by Sandra Bruce

All my students signed up thus far for the Zephyr workshop have sent me their photos to grid and I’m sure they are happily selecting fabrics to use. I do have a couple of spaces left, anyone who is a procrastinator and contemplating coming to Zephyr in September! We 4 welcome latecomers.

I wrote a blog post months ago about Chuck Close: his influence upon my Matrix technique and the 2 quilts I made of his image taken from a photograph by the photographer Gianfranco Gorgoni. The story of these quilts, “Chuck Close One” and “Chuck Close Two” (both 60″ by 70″) is a fragmented and ultimately puzzling one which I have not written much about, in part to protect the information I received about Chuck and his health. Suffice it to say, “Chuck Close One” is in the hands of Chuck Close himself, and “Chuck Close Two” I recently sent to Houston for the show in November. I entered it in the “Hands All Around” exhibit, which will travel internationally for a year and be seen by many people. The tops of these 2 quilts were made at the same time and look very much alike. I am thankful to Gorgoni for being the go-between to help me get the quilt to Chuck. I am glad he has it. Here they are side by side.

Screen Shot 2016-07-14 at 7.48.46 PMDuring the first week of July I took a road trip with my son Matteo. His bike went in the back seat of my car. His emphasis was riding skate parks on his BMX, and I enjoyed being with him and occasionally hitting a fabric store or two, and visiting friends along the way. I knew there was an exhibit in Everett, WA of Chuck’s work and I wanted to be sure to catch it. Chuck grew up in Everett, and attended the junior college there before going onto University of Washington and eventually Yale. My friend Kathy, Matteo and I drove up to Everett to see the show at the Schack Art Center. The emphasis on the show was about his collaborations with other artists, and there were examples of the many techniques Chuck has used. I will say here that I apologize for the quality of these photos, taken with my aging cell phone. But you get the idea. I like this first picture, badly taken as it is, as you can see my reflection taking the photo and also Matteo’s silhouette on the other side of the room. It’s a piece of a lithograph, one process that Close has done repeatedly.


Here’s another lithograph, an older one as you can see by how young Chuck looks. Each square has little hatch lines drawn in diagonally to create the “values”.IMG_0889

This one I had not seen before. It’s a portrait of his daughter done in many values of paper pulp “blobs”, that were made from a form that he had someone make for him. The form looked like a giant cookie cutter, and took the artist over 2 months to make. Here is the portrait and the form for the pulp.IMG_0903IMG_0905

So, check this out….his image of “Lucas”, which was a painting, made into a silk rug that was on the floor of the gallery. The sign next to it begged the question, “Is this fine art, and should it be on the floor or on the wall?”IMG_0890

There were a few pieces like this. The squares are filled with color, and the corners are left so you can see the paper beneath.IMG_0892IMG_0900

I wish I had taken more care to read the information on this one so I could share it with you. I had seen this before in another gallery. He painted his face, which you see at the base…..viewing it in the silver cylinder allows you to view it as he intended. I seem to recall from Art history classes years ago that there were artists during the Renaissance doing this technique. Amazing, isn’t it?IMG_0898

And yet another way of applying the paint in a grid. These round shapes were created by applying a felt circle to a stick and applying the paint with the felt. You can really see the texture and it’s easy to imagine him plopping those little circles on.IMG_0896

Phillip Glass, the musician, has been Chuck’s most repeated subject. Chuck really likes his features. It was interesting to see the same image both in tapestry form, and as a painting that Chuck created using his thumbprint to fill each square with a value of grey. Wonderful!IMG_0907IMG_0909




One more tapestry, reproduced from one of his self-portrait photographs.IMG_0899

Wednesday, while stuck in a horrible traffic situation on my way to Meet the Teachers in Pleasant Hill (Heidi, Christine and I were presenters and we made it, finally), I was checking emails on my phone and noticed that several friends had sent me a link to an article about Chuck Close written by Will S Hylton in the NYTimes. Having literally hours to wait going nowhere, to pass the time I read the article out loud to Heidi and Christine. This article (link below), is a beautifully written and tender while at the same time probing piece about Chuck and his work in the latter part of his life. In reading it things came to light about where Chuck has been, literally and figuratively, during the last year or so while I was working on the quilts and trying to get the one to him. I hope you will read the article, which, while quite long, is so worth the time.


Chuck, such an enigma, is fascinated by faces, which he paints and calls “heads”. I am fascinated by them too. And I am fascinated by Chuck Close.

11 thoughts on “Unraveling the Enigma of Chuck Close

  1. Great article Sandra. Thanks too for sharing the gallery exhibit. I saw some of his work when I was in Charlotte, NC and in person, they are amazing. I could readily see why his art fascinates you. And look what he has inspired. You are an artist right up there with him. We just know there will be a bit of time before the rest of the world wakes up!

  2. Chuck Close is an amazing artist especially considering his health issue. I have seen him on the Charlie Rose shoes many times and find him and his work utterly fascinating. Loved this blog.

  3. I really enjoyed your “reading” of the NYT’s article. I have a deeper appreciation of his art and the tough lifestyle he has had to endure.
    And, yes, it made the time sitting, sitting, did I say sitting, go a little faster, maybe?

  4. Amazing article and interesting pictures of his self portrait. My sister-law was a portrait painter and her most famous portrait was the children of a forty-inner football player Joe Montana. She did them in pastels. Chuck Close has made his last portrait look younger (which is just my opinion). I had never heard of him before you made me aware of his talent. Thanks for sending the article.

  5. Hello Sandra, this is Joey from the world quilt. I am so sorry that I will be out of town during your retreat. I had so much fun last year. I haven’t worked on my project much but I have been giving some guidance to my son who is making the same quilt, same size too! So when he gets to the place where I am I will start working on mine again. I will send you a photo. I really like his color choices and he refused to cut and glue! Have a wonderful retreat! Joey

    Sent from my iPad


    • Hi, Joey, nice to hear from you, I am just now seeing your post 🙂 I’m so glad to hear from you, and I really enjoyed having you last year at our retreat. Do send a photo when you can, I’d love to see your quilts, yours and your son’s too!

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