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Chuck Close. Robert/104,072. 1973-74

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Chuck Close (American, born 1940)


Synthetic polymer paint and ink with graphite on gessoed canvas
9' x 7' (274.4 x 213.4 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of J. Frederic Byers III and promised gift of an anonymous donor
MoMA Number:
© 2015 Chuck Close

The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, revised 2004, originally published 1999, p. 274

"No work of art was ever made without a process," Close has said, and Robert/104,072 was made by a painstaking process indeed: it is composed of tiny black dots, each set inside a single square of a 104,072-square grid. The sense of shape and texture—of the distinction between metal and skin, between knitted sweater and bushy mustache—depends on the density of the paint, which Close applied with a spray gun, revisiting each square an average of ten times. Not surprisingly, the work took fourteen months to make.

When Close began to paint portraits, in 1967-68, figurative painting was widely considered exhausted. The figures in Pop art were coolly ironic; and other artists were painting abstractions, or were abandoning painting altogether for more conceptual systems of art-making. Close preferred to apply a conceptual system to a traditional mode of painting. The aggressive scale makes the system clear—close up, the gridded dots in Robert/104,072 are quite apparent—and the black-and-white palette reflects the image's source in a photograph.

Robert/104,072 announces itself as less illusion than code. For Close, a picture like this one is not "a painting of a person as much as it is the distribution of paint on a flat surface. . . . You really have to understand the artificiality of what you are doing to make the reality."

Audio Program excerpt

What is Painting? Contemporary Art from the Collection

, July 7–September 17, 2007

Artist, Chuck Close: This piece is made by spraying ink mixed with acrylic through an airbrush into the spaces of the grid. And the title refers to the fact that it's 104,072 squares. To make a piece like this, which took fourteen months, I spent a long time up on a ladder. Each dot is hit an average of ten times, ten little puffs on the airbrush. So, it's 1,400,000 little presses with my finger on the airbrush until I developed arthritis.

Robert is Robert Ellson, a friend of my wife's from junior high school, who ended up in Wall Street. From the very beginning, I wanted to make portraits of every-man, every-woman. I asked my friends, because nobody knew who they were and they were anonymous.

All my work is made from photographs and I take the photographs myself. There is no projection involved. I look at something small and I make something big.

The real desire on my part with working this way is that I wanted to get away from virtuoso art marks. I was a very good student and I could make stuff that looked like art, but it always looked like someone else's art. And so the idea of simply spraying a little fuzzy mark into each square appealed to me.

I wanted to make a big, aggressive, confrontational image that you could see from across the gallery. And then I wanted to suck people up into the kind of middle distance, in which they’d have trouble seeing it as a whole, almost like Gulliver's Lilliputians crawling across the surface of a face, not knowing that they're stumbling on a beard hair, and falling into a nostril. And then I want to suck the viewer right up to the surface, for the really intimate experience, more information than you ever wanted to know about someone's face.

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