Chuck Close is celebrated for his monumental portrait paintings in which sitters stare out at viewers with uncompromising gazes. Although identified by name, these subjects reveal none of the nuances of individual personality found in traditional portraiture. Instead, Close focuses on his working procedures—the “means” rather than the “ends” usually associated with this genre. It is the visual effects of translating a photograph into a painting that Close exploits in endless permutations. Translating still further into printmaking offers even more variables to stimulate his creativity. He has completed approximately fifty-five prints, working in numerous techniques. These editions have allowed a broad audience to have access to his work, a fact that Close appreciates since his painting process is lengthy and results in relatively few canvases.
Close’s active engagement in printmaking began with his first print, Keith/Mezzotint, created in 1972. This project came about at the instigation of publisher Robert Feldman of Parasol Press, who arranged for Close to work with master printer Kathan Brown at Crown Point Press. So as not to be intimidated by the printer’s expertise, Close rather perversely selected mezzotint, a long-out-of-favor and laborious technique that would be as much of a challenge for Brown as for him. When his constant trial proofing wore down the markings on the plate around the mouth, Close decided he liked that exposure of his process and went even further by allowing his grided guide to show through. From that time on, a grid has often been visible in his work in all mediums. Such fruitful collaborations with printers, and the impetus of invigorating new techniques, have repeatedly fed back into Close’s work as a whole and made printmaking essential to his overall artistic practice.
Publication excerpt from Deborah Wye, Artists and Prints: Masterworks from The Museum of Modern Art, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2004, p. 238.