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Work of the Week: Self-portrait 1977

Self-portrait 1977

Over the past half century Chuck Close has reinvigorated the genre of portraiture with his painted, printed, photographic and drawn images of himself, his family and his friends. He created his first canvases based on simple head-and-shoulders snapshots of individuals in 1968, employing a superimposed grid to meticulously replicate, square by square, every detail of the source photo in the painting. This method of working has remained constant for the artist, although his use of different media and varied applications – brushstrokes of vibrant colour, dots of pastel, etched lines, fingerprints, paper-pulp fragments – has introduced changing variables through which he has investigated the modes of representation integral to image-making. The cool neutrality of Close’s works and his adoption of photographic imagery and process-driven working methods have aligned his practice with both photo-realism and conceptual art.

In 1976–77 Close worked on a series of self-portraits based on one photograph, executing these in different media, including watercolour, pastel, pen and ink, etching and aquatint. The etching in this group is the artist’s first self-portrait made in the print medium and, like his 1968 painted self-portrait, is of monumental scale. The image comprises a grid of thousands of squares, each filled with lines drawn diagonally from left to right. The contrast of squares – some crossed with just one line, others entirely filled in – dissolves the detail of Close’s face into a vibrant, almost shimmering, pixelated surface. The artist’s familiar beard, balding head, reflective glasses and open-necked shirt only coalesce at a distance, the photographic realism achieved through the artificial construct of hand-drawn marks meticulously applied in accordance with a rigorous system.

Self-portrait 1977
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 1979
© Chuck Close, courtesy Pace Gallery