Critics’ Picks

Chuck Close, Phyllis/maquette, 1981, gelatin silver print with graphite and ink mounted to board, 30 x 20”.

New York

Chuck Close

Eykyn Maclean | New York
23 East 67th Street
April 16 - May 24

Whether in laboriously executed paintings or technically complex fine art prints, Chuck Close has famously reprised the same subject throughout his long career: the visages of his friends, his colleagues, and himself. The degree of removal that characterizes the transition of these works from documentary image to abstracted interpretation suggests that portraiture serves Close as a vehicle for technical experimentation, rather than an end in itself. Yet this exhibition of twenty-seven unique photo maquettes (mostly large-format Polaroids) taken by the artist as source material to be scaled up and reinterpreted in his more famous works may prompt reconsiderations of such assumptions about Close’s production over the past four decades. These intermediary images bear the traces of the exacting transformation enacted upon them, including masking tape and coordinated grids. A didactic display of several maquettes alongside the works that resulted from them reveals the dramatic shift from photograph to final work. For instance, a smiling child in Emma/maquette, 2000, who leans toward Close and his camera is juxtaposed with a 2002 woodcut of her close-up face abstracted into orbs of color.

The show also emphasizes the unexpectedly ephemeral origins of Close’s practice, in which quotidian, even banal images develop into finished products that are designed to overwhelm, either through scale or sheer labor. Many of the photographs on view reveal the relaxed poses of their sitters while also bearing evidence of the photos’ casual presence in the artist’s studio. The lower right corner of Phyllis/maquette, 1981, for example, is covered with thumbprints and smudges. The margins of the maquette, as well, are punctuated with the artist’s notes: a math problem worked out by hand, perhaps related to scaling up the final product, and, even more personally, a scrawled phone number and movie title. In the same pencil and loose cursive of the latter, however, Close deliberately signed, titled, and dated the work, a gesture that solidifies both the importance of these long unseen photographs and the unconsidered duality of his enduring and evolving practice.