Process and Collaboration – Chuck Close @ White Cube Bermondsey

White Cube Bermondsey London

White Cube Bermondsey London

I was impressed with the Chuck Close exhabition curently running at the white Cube gallery in Bermondsey. The travelling exhabition that has been on tour since 2003. It has worked its way around Closes homeland in the USA and is currently in the U.K. The exhabition takes a look at the artist print making endeavours rather than his paintings.

Close is well known for his giant portraits. His process involves taking a close up photo of the face of his sitter using a lens that allow him to see every pore and line on the face. He then grids up the mug shoot and uses a variety of processes to translate the image from photo to canvas or paper.

Using a grid allows the artist to deconstruct the image and rebuild it block by block. He has said that treating each square individually makes the handling the figurative subject become quite abstract.

He has produced many paintings over the years of friends, family members and celebrities. He often revisits the same original photograph many times. Each time the out come is different due to the different processes used in the making.

On show at White Cube gallery is a large collection of prints. From wood block prints to lithograph, mezzo print, lino reductions, finger prints, scribble etchings, screen prints and the unusual paper pulp prints. Along side these hangs tapestries and even a rug showing the trade mark mug shoot. Close uses many different process often collaboration with master printers and teams of helpers whilst working on the prints.

The best thing about this exhibition is that along with this eclectic selection of works you get a step by step guide to the process used. There’s speeded up footage being played on a small screen. This shows a team of 6 or 7 people working on one of the paper pulp prints.

It shows them lying different large acetate sheets (approximately A0) on to a specially marked up printing table with a coarse damp piece of hand made paper lying beneath. Once the acetate is in place they set to work with what looks like icing bags pumping grey paper pulp so that it fills the cut out sections of the acetate stencil. They then firm the pulp down with there fingers. The pressure means the pulp binds to the fibre of the damp paper below. Many sheets are used each with different parts of the face removed to allow the pulp to go through on to the paper. Each time a different value of grey is squidged on to the surface. They work from dark to light. The darkest layers black and is put on first. Because of the large amount used for the largest shapes a wooden frame with shaped aluminium in side to separate the different sections. It looks a bit like a giant abstract pastry cutter.

In an earlier work Georgia 1982 121 cm x 76 cm. The first that used the paper pulp method. Close made the entire image using just one such frame with intricate moulded mettle to separate the sections. Each section was numbered on the inside of the metal partitions. Each number correspond to a parer value to be used. The team must have realised it would be easier to cut acetate stencils rather than make one laborious grid.

As well as the video, hung on the wall is a sires of prints showing the step by step build up of the portrait. Above these hangs the corresponding acetate stencil. Fascinating to have the entire process explained like this. Usually you have to try to work out how the artist has gone about the work by your self. Chuck Close is famously transparent about his working process. Perhaps something that began when he took the decision to show evidence of the grid in his finished pieces.

showing the workings behind the finished piece also shows the viewer the hours, imagination and injeanutitiy behind each project.

As well as the paper pulp collection there’s also a series of prints showing the build up of a lino reductio, A series showing silk screen process and the Eight wood blocks used, and final print of closes niece, baby Emma made in 2002. For this one Cuck collaborated with Japanese wood cut master Yasu Shibata.

Among my favourites on display here is a series of recent water colour prints. The fact that two of them are even dated 2013 shows the artist work literally fresh of the printing press. Other prints in the collection date back as far as 1972 showing the artist long affinity with printing.

The water colour portraits have lost the fine hyper realistic detail that is associated with Closes early work before his accident. There is even less detailing than any work of his up to this point. The portraits look as if you are viewing them through a hard squint. So that only colour shapes are apparent no detailing.

They are called the water colour prints as Close started the process by making water colour marks to depict the portraits. Of course using the trade mark grid, Some following horizontal and vertical lies. Others on a 40% slant creating diamonds on the page rather than squares. The artist then scans the water colour marks in to the computer and matches each square to the corresponding one in the original photo on a grid.

The prints are said to be printed 6 times. Each time different % of CMYK are used to build up th final image. This leads to a rice highly saturated pallet. The colours look velvety to the touch. Around each square or diamond bleeds the underling cyan magenta and yellow making each square almost look like its sparkling. The effect is quite beautiful.

Chuck Close is constantly reinventing the head and shoulders portrait in a grid. By setting himself the constraint of the subject to work with he shows us the magical effects created by using many different process in a seemingly never ending evaluation.

This exhibition is a must for any one with an interest in the artist or print making.


Photo of Chuck Close self portrait


About Emma Perring

Artist, oil painter

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