Chuck's father died when he was ten years old. Most of his early works are very large portraits based on photographs (Photorealism or Hyperralism technique) of family and friends, often other artists.
Close's first one-man show was in 1970. His work was first exhibited at the New York Museum of Modern Art in early 1973. In 1979 his work was included in the Whitney Biennial. One demonstration of the way photography became assimilated into the art world is the success of photorealist painting in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The everyday nature of the subject matter of the paintings likewise worked to secure the painting as a realist object.
One photo of Philip Glass was included in his black and white series in 1969, redone with water colors in 1977, again redone with stamp pad and fingerprints in 1978, and also done as gray handmade paper in 1982.
Philip Glass by Chuck Close
Although his later paintings differ in method from his earlier canvases, the preliminary process remains the same. To create his grid work copies of photos, Close puts a grid on the photo and on the canvas and copies cell by cell. Typically, each square within the grid is filled with roughly executed regions of color (usually consisting of painted rings on a contrasting background) which give the cell a perceived 'average' hue which makes sense from a distance. His first tools for this included an airbrush, rags, razor blade, and an eraser mounted on a power drill. His first picture with this method was Big Self Portrait, a black and white enlargement of his face to a 107.5 in by 83.5 in (2.73 m by 2.12 m) canvas, made in over four months in 1968, and acquired by the Walker Art Center in 1969. He made seven more black and white portraits during this period. He has been quoted as saying that he used such diluted paint in the airbrush that all eight of the paintings were made with a single tube of mars black acrylic.
Close has also continued to explore difficult photographic processes such as daguerrotype in collaboration with Jerry Spagnoli and sophisticated modular/cell-based forms such as tapestry. Close's wall-size tapestry portraits, in which each image is composed of thousands of combinations of woven colored thread, depict subjects including Kate Moss, Cindy Sherman, Lorna Simpson, Philip Glass and Close himself.
Kate Moss by Chuck Close
On December 7, 1988, Close felt a strange pain in his chest. That day he was in New York about to give an art award. He begged to present first, went on stage, quickly read his speech and then ran to the hospital. Within a few hours, Close was paralyzed from the neck down. At first the doctors were confused but eventually they diagnosed a rare spinal artery collapse. Close called that day "The Event." For months Close was in rehab strengthening his muscles; he soon had slight movement in his arms and could walk, yet only for a few steps. He has relied on a wheelchair since.
Chuck working in his wheelchair with his paintbrush strapped to his hand
However, Close continued to paint on with a brush strapped onto his wrist with tape, creating large portraits in low-resolution grid squares created by an assistant. Viewed from afar, these squares appear as a single, unified image which attempt photo-reality, albeit in pixilated form. Although the paralysis restricted his ability to paint as meticulously as before, Close had, in a sense, placed artificial restrictions upon his hyper-realist approach well before the injury. That is, he adopted materials and techniques that did not lend themselves well to achieving a photorealistic effect. Small bits of irregular paper or inked fingerprints were used as media to achieve astoundingly realistic and interesting results. Close proved able to create his desired effects even with the most difficult of materials to control.
Big Self-Portrait (1967-1968), is, indeed, big (nearly nine by seven feet). He used acrylic paint and an airbrush to include every detail