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Posts Tagged ‘Chuck Close’

Francis Bacon
Portrait of Michel Leiris 1976

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As you work, the mood grows on you. There are certain images which suddenly get hold of me and I really want to do them. But it’s true to say that the excitement and possibilities are in the working and obviously can only come in the working.

–Francis Bacon

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I am swamped in work today. I say that a lot and it might sound awful to many folks. But for me it is the best possible situation because being at work means that, like Bacon says above, I am amidst the excitement and possibilities that come with working. Thinking about ideas, mulling what you’re going to do has a place but they are worthless nothings until they go into process, become work. Then they usually become something altogether different because the work allows you to flesh out what the mind alone couldn’t imagine.

The process of working is the true generator of ideas.

There have been many artists through time who have expressed this same sentiment, that doing work generates new work, creates new possibilities. I know that it is true for myself.

Breakthroughs in the work always come while working, with hands in paint and eyes and mind straining to see where the piece before me ends and the next begins.

Here’s one of my favorite inspirational pieces from artist Chuck Close that very much says the same thing: Don’t wait on inspiration–make your own!

The advice I like to give young artists, or really anybody who’ll listen to me, is not to wait around for inspiration. Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work. All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the… work itself. Things occur to you. If you’re sitting around trying to dream up a great art idea, you can sit there a long time before anything happens. But if you just get to work, something will occur to you and something else will occur to you and something else that you reject will push you in another direction. Inspiration is absolutely unnecessary and somehow deceptive. You feel like you need this great idea before you can get down to work, and I find that’s almost never the case.

I am taking that advice and just doing what I do. You do what you do, okay?

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Paul Simon by Chuck CloseIt’s hard to believe that Paul Simon has been a major part of the American songbook for over 50 years, since The Sound of Silence arrived back in 1964.  If you want to get technical, Simon has been writing and recording since 1957.  So it’s closer to 60 years.  And through all that time, he has continued to move forward, never opting to cruise by on a well-built reputation and a deep body of stellar work.

His work has been a document of our times and a constant companion to many of us through out or lives.

At age 74, Paul Simon has released a new album, Stranger to Stranger, that continues his journey ahead.  On his terms.  The voice is not diminished.  The rhythms are still intriguing and the words and melodies bear his signature.  It’s all strong and distinct.

What more can you ask from an artist who you have known so well for so long?

The cover art for the album is a detail from a painting, shown above, of Simon painted by artist Chuck Close in his signature style.

So, for this Sunday morning’s music, here’s the title song from the new album, Stranger to Stranger.  Sit back, relax and have yourself a great Sunday.

 

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close_chuck_2

I’ve written lately about the funk that I was in, how I was experiencing a crisis of confidence.  This has made approaching my work difficult and I have been wracking my brain trying to find inspiration or some new catalyst to drive me forward.  But deep inside I know that the remedy is just pushing aside my insecurity and doubts to do the only thing I know that has helped me in the past– get to work and paint.  I came across this post from several years back with some advice from Chuck Close that pretty much sums up this cure.  Here it is:

chuck-close-phillip-glassI’ve been a fan of the work of Chuck Close for some time, admiring the grand scale that much of his work assumes as well as his evolution as an artist, especially given his challenges after a spinal artery collapse left him paralyzed from the neck down in 1988.  He regained slight use of his arms and continued to paint, creating work through this time that rates among his best.  He also suffers from prosopagnosia which is face blindness, meaning that he cannot recognize faces.  He has stated that this is perhaps the main  reason he has continued his explorations in portraiture for his entire career.  The piece shown here is a portrait of composer Phillip Glass that was made using only Close’s fingerprints,  a technique which presaged his incorporation of his own unique form of pixelation into his painting process.

His determination to overcome, to keep at it, is a big attraction for me and should be an object lesson for most young artists (and non-artists, also) who keep putting off projects until all the conditions are perfect and all the stars align.  Waiting for the muse of inspiration to take them by the hand and lead them forward.  Sometimes you have to meet the muse halfway and Close has this advice for those who hesitate:

The advice I like to give young artists, or really anybody who’ll listen to me, is not to wait around for inspiration. Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work. All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the… work itself. Things occur to you. If you’re sitting around trying to dream up a great art idea, you can sit there a long time before anything happens. But if you just get to work, something will occur to you and something else will occur to you and something else that you reject will push you in another direction. Inspiration is absolutely unnecessary and somehow deceptive. You feel like you need this great idea before you can get down to work, and I find that’s almost never the case.

Amen to thatThe process provides the inspiration.  I’ve stumbled around for some time trying to say this but never could say it as plainly and directly as Close has managed.  Thanks, Chuck.  I think I’ll take your advice and get to work.

chuck close at work

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Not too long ago, I displayed a Chuck Close quote where he said that work is inspiration in itself, that by simply steadfastly doing  what you do will open up creative avenues to follow.  I frimly believe that and have experienced it on many occasions including just this past week. 

 As I have been documenting, I am working on a large canvas, which is nearing completion, by the way.  I showed, in a post last week, how I would cut the image into sections to weigh the strength of each area of the canvas to make sure that it had its own visual power to contribute to the painting as a whole.  I showed the two section from each edge of the canvas and concluded that both pieces stood up well as strong parts of the overall painting as well as compositions in their own rights. 

 In fact, the section from the far right kept me coming back to it.  I really liked the way it flowed upward with each piece interacting with those around it, creating a lovely harmony that really worked well, for my personal taste, at least.  It gave me a great sense of peace looking at it and I soon began exploring ways to make it work in a separate piece.

I felt a real sense of immediacy in creating something based on this and, searching the studio, realized I didn’t have any prepared surfaces ready in any dimension close to what I was seeing in my head.  There was a painting that was in a later state of completion, one that I had mentioned here recently.  It never really sang for me and had sat in a corner of the studio for quite  a long time, just waiting for me to give it the needed attention.  But every time I looked at it, I was less than inspired.  It just wasn’t working. 

 So, looking at it as a possible new surface to paint, it wasn’t a difficult decision to paint over  the image that had never really taken off for me.  It wasn’t a perfect choice, a bit smaller and narrower than the inspiring image, shown here to the left.  The original is somewhere in the 24″ wide by 54″ range whereas this piece is only 10″ wide by 30″ high, making it a much more condensed space in which to work.

  The resulting image is therefore different, which is as it should be.  It is inspired by, not a copy of, the original image.  For me, it flows in much the same manner and has the same sort of feel and harmony.  It works for me and having said that creates its own new sense of inspiration for other work to come.  Just like Chuck Close said– one thing leads to another.

 

 

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Sometimes you find yourself out little bits of advice to other people, never realizing the irony behind the act.  Take yesterday’s post, where I passed on some advice from Chuck Close about getting to work and not waiting for inspiration.  Well, after reading what I had read yesterday morning, I looked across the studio at a large canvas that I had prepared last year, knowing that the time to take Close’s words to heart was at hand.

The canvas is 4 1/2′ by 7′  and has been haunting me for almost a year.  I had written about this canvas in a post last March called Daunting and I guess it must have been just that because I have found excuse after excuse to not start working on it over the past 10 or so months.  Too busy doing other things and the sort.  But in reality I was just plain scared of facing such a large challenge.

But thinking about Close and his words as well as his work and the challenges he has faced in his life made me feel a bit embarassed.  You shouldn’t run away from big challenges.  You should embrace them as an opportunity to simply overcome in a bigger way. I know that and have passed on that advice to others over the years.  Yet, here I was, not heeding my own words.  This was a challenge and to put it off only created other problems of avoidance.

So, I finally put it on the easel and started at it. 

It was difficult to start but it slowly is beginning to take form.  It will be a long process, much longer than I am accustomed to in my work, and I know that this will a challenge.  I will have to fight my urge to shorten the process, to take shortcuts that might not be too noticeable to the outside observer but would nag at me in the aftermath of completion. 

But the battle has been engaged and I am on the way to whatever this canvas holds for me.  We shall see…

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I’ve been a fan of the work of Chuck Close for some time, admiring the grand scale that much of his work assumes as well as his evolution as an artist, especially given his challenges after a spinal artery collapse left him paralyzed from the neck down in 1988.  He regained slight use of his arms and continued to paint, creating work through this time that rates among his best.  He also suffers from prosopagnosia which is face blindness, meaning that he cannot recognize faces.  He has stated that this is perhaps the main  reason he has continued his explorations in portraiture for his entire career.  The piece shown here is a portrait of composer Phillip Glass that was made using only Close’s fingerprints,  a technique which presaged his incorporation of his own unique form of pixelation into his painting process.

His determination to overcome, to keep at it, is a big attraction for me and should be an object lesson for most young artists (and non-artists, also) who keep putting off projects until all the conditions are perfect and all the stars align.  Waiting for the muse of inspiration to take them by the hand and lead them forward.  Sometimes you have to meet the muse halfway and Close has this advice for those who hesitate:

The advice I like to give young artists, or really anybody who’ll listen to me, is not to wait around for inspiration. Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work. All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the… work itself. Things occur to you. If you’re sitting around trying to dream up a great art idea, you can sit there a long time before anything happens. But if you just get to work, something will occur to you and something else will occur to you and something else that you reject will push you in another direction. Inspiration is absolutely unnecessary and somehow deceptive. You feel like you need this great idea before you can get down to work, and I find that’s almost never the case.

Amen to thatThe process provides the inspiration.  I’ve stumbled around for some time trying to say this but never could say it as plainly and directly as Close has managed.  Thanks, Chuck.  I think I’ll take your advice and get to work.

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If any artist has stuck more closely to variations on a single theme than Chuck Close, I am not aware of him.  Close has had a long and illustrious career painting portraits based on the grid system often associated with photographic  pixels, taking the contents of each grid placed over a photo and transferring and expanding it in size to a corresponding grid on his canvas, to put it in simplistic terms.  Beginning early on, Close created  huge canvasses where he would capture every single detail and blemish in his subjects’ faces in an extreme photorealist manner.  These have tremendous impact when seen in person, from the massive scale as well as the ultra-clarity provided in the detail.

  But over the years he went beyond the photorealist aspect and created variations.  Instead of replicating each pixel with absolute precision, Close would use the grid to create almost abstract mosaic tiles that captured some of the color and form of the referenced grid but had their own form as well.  The self portrait shown above is such an example. He also used his thumbprints to create portraits in this manner, taking fingerpainting to new heights.  Fanny/Fingerpainting 1985, shown here, is an example.  Hard to believe that this very realistic image is built from thumbprints.

As an artist, I am most intrigued by Close’s dedication to his process and his ability to discover variation within it.  Ultimately, subject matter is not the important part of his body of work.  It is his unique process that makes his work special.  That’s something that you hope young artists realize, that it is more vital to adapt a way of painting, a process,  that meshes with the workings of your own mind than finding interesting subject matter.

There’s a lot more to say about Chuck Close than I’m saying at the moment.  For instance, how he has adapted his process to his physical limitations that resulted from a spinal blood clot in the late 80’s.  That’s a story in itself.  There’s a wealth of info on the web about the artist for those who seek more detail.

Here’s a neat promo for a show from 2009 of Close’s printwork held at the San Jose Museum of Art.

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