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  • Writer's pictureDimitri Ozerkov

Chuck Close: Seven Portraits

When:  29.02.2008 - 13.04.2008

Where:  Hermitage, Saint-Petersburg, Russia


At the Winter Palace, in halls 28-30 at the Saltykov entrance, an exhibition of the eminent 20th century American artist Chuck Close (b. 1940) opened as the first exhibition of the artist in Russia and the second show of the Hermitage 20/21 project. Chuck Close’s creative work emerges at the boundary of various techniques and arts – photography, oil painting, tapestry design – yet continues to develop within the space of one and the same art genre – portraiture. The interaction between aesthetics and techniques produces an artistic sense of intrigue that’s also reflected in the title: the show is called Chuck Close: Seven Portraits and includes eight works. The seven paintings are introduced to the audience by means of a trellis – a hyper-realistic self-portrait made with a Jacquard loom. Chuck Close’s works are neither paintings nor photos. Having achieved photographic accuracy in the faces portrayed on his canvases from the 1970s, Close began to experiment with other ways of conveying reality. In the ’80s, he composed faces with colored and black-and-white spots; in the ’90s he made them of circles of various colors. During his work process, Chuck Close departs from his model as far as possible. Over several months, he translates a photograph once taken by him into a painting in a pixelwise manner, using various techniques. Among thousands of faces, the artist chooses those that are interesting to him artistically, as well as the faces of his family and friends, every detail of which he knows well. Close tends to work by series, each including six to eight paintings. After a stroke left him handicapped in 1988, Close started paintings with brush tied down to his hand. It takes him about two years to create a series of works. The State Hermitage presents the artist’s most recent series of portraits, created between 2005 and 2007. These are the faces of Close’s family members, to which he has turned many times in earlier works, as well as a portrait of former US president Bill Clinton, Close’s family friend. Self-portraits take a central place in Close’s works. Over many years, he has been taking photographs of his own face every year and translating them into large paintings. This reflects changes in hairstyle, beard, and eyeglass frames, as well as aging, worldview, and attitude toward life. Over and over, Chuck Close turns to the photographs of his family and friends – his major source of inspiration: his wife Lesley; his in-laws, Net and Shirley; his daughters, Georgia and Maggie. Close seeks to depart from the intimate familiarity with his models by placing geometric lattices onto familiar photos. By dematerializing the plane of the canvas, a lattice sets a viewpoint on a portrait and defines for a viewer a distance where the lattice squares form an image. At the same time, the face, constantly threatening to disappear, invokes the viewer to come up to the canvas and try to identify the underlying artistic technique. But approaching the canvas in an effort to gain insight into the core of the artist’s work inevitably turns the portrait into a multicolored abstraction. The portrait of Bill Clinton was made for the National Gallery of Art (Washington) at the request of Ian Cumming. The artist first took several color photos of the ex-president, and then asked him to select one of them, which finally was used to paint the portrait. Being committed to immortalizing his friend and the two-time president of the United States, Close began the work on the condition that he would have the right to refuse to show the painting at exhibitions should the final outcome not satisfy his artistic expectations. The condition was met but the canvas turned out to be a success and became the first portrait of the American president in the National Gallery’s collection. The exhibition has been organized with the help of the UK Friends of the Hermitage and assistance from the White Cube in London. An academic, illustrated catalogue has been prepared for the exhibition. Its introduction is written by Mikhail Piotrovsky, Director of the State Hermitage Museum. The articles are written by Dimitri Ozerkov, Ingrid Sischy and Diarmuid Costello. The catalogue is published in English and Russian by Fontanka Press, London 2008. Dimitry Ozerkov, a Senior Researcher at the Department of Western European Art, curated the exhibition.

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