In thinking about other artists who employ grids to construct portraits, I started to think about the work of American artist, Chuck Close. Close has received international recognition for his large scale portraits and has been instrumental in reviving the art of portraiture as a credible subject matter. His signature style of portraiture has recently featured as the cover art for Paul Simon’s latest album – Stranger to Stranger, released in June of this year.
Close’s own rationale for using grids to construct his paintings is as much pragmatic as it is stylistic. He is affected by a condition known as Prosopagnosia – a psychological condition which impairs ones ability to recognise faces in a normal human way. In 1988, the artist also sustained a spinal injury that left him largely paralyzed. In time, he regained movement in his hands and arms although he would wear a splint that would enable him to hold the paintbrush whilst using a mechanical easel in order to rotate the canvas (Art Factory, 2016). Whilst some critics may read these grid paintings as prescriptive in their construction, I myself have a lot of admiration for these works. Apart from his physical limitations, there is something truly innovative about Close’s appropriation of the grid. Each square seems so abstract in isolation; a myriad of spiralling colours, that suddenly form a unified image when one views the work from a distance. In this way, his work allows for multiple readings.
Close has often acknowledged that applying the grid to his paintings prevents him being overwhelmed by the whole (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 2012), a statement that perhaps validates my own use of a grid to draw my portrait. After all, knowing where to begin when making an artwork can be difficult at the best of times. How much more so when drawing one’s own face? Equally, I wonder how my personal feelings and insecurities about the way that I look might inform how I draw myself. Maybe using a grid will enable me to draw myself in a more objective way.
In generating an image from post-it notes, I also like the idea that the final self-portrait will be obscured until all the individual parts are assembled together like a jigsaw. I have no idea what my completed self-portrait will look like; therein lies the motivation to push on. Within this process, I feel that there are also parallels to therapy – a broad notion of the ‘self’ being revealed over a period of time and under a certain degree of scrutiny. Close himself states he works very closely to his paintings, immersed in the detail of each square and actively chooses not to step back and survey how they fit together until the painting is finished (Nemser, 1970). Whether it’s a success or a failure, I’m looking forward to my own big reveal.
Art Factory (2016), CHUCK CLOSE (1940 – ), Available from: http://www.artyfactory.com/art_appreciation/portraits/chuck_close.html (accessed: 25.08.16)
Nemser, C. (1970), CHUCK CLOSE Interview with Cindy Nemser. 1st ed. [ebook] p.4. Available at: https://users.wfu.edu/~laugh/painting2/close.pdf (accessed 26.08.16)
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (2012), Chuck Close on Following the Grid, Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_e-p5M0vhZI (accessed: 23.08.16)