… Close has created a psychological zone where it is possible to violate the physical privacy of another human to an unprecedented degree.
This is from Chuck Close by Robert Storr (1998):
… Portraiture, as a genre, bears the stigma of mixed motives. Historically, portraits have predominantly been work for hire, which in virtually every instance dictates that the task of the artist, whatever his or her independent creative objectives may be, is to make the sitter look good or resemble some prescribed image. The art of commissioned portraits is, therefore, as much a matter of social and psychological manipulation as it is of aesthetic considerations, and rarely has it reached its peak without indulgence on the part of the subject.
… modern portraiture became a laboratory for stylistic experimentation and for the form-altering analysis of personality and milieu. [as examples, Storr points to Picasso, Matisse, Giacometti, and Francis Bacon]
… With these and similar examples in mind, Close’s statement “I tried to purge my work of as much of the baggage of traditional portrait painting as I could” is both provocative and logical.
… Close’s impatience with cliché intended to speak to “the human condition” declares itself. “I consider myself a humanist, but why must all humanists deal with blind people, or bloated dead bodies, or man’s inhumanity to man? Why can’t we reflect on less dramatic or less primitive situations? I’m interested in approaching the subject flat-footedly, very unemotionally. Lack of highly charged emotion doesn’t mean no emotion. It means that I’m not cranking it up for its maximal emotional impact.”
… Everything about these faces, from misshapen features to the smallest blemish or lapse in grooming, is recorded, inspected millimeter by millimeter by the artist, and blown up to giant scale. Detached and meticulous attention explains the intrusiveness of Close’s gaze rather than unkindness. Nevertheless, the effect, especially in chill tones of gray, can be simultaneously mesmerizing and off-putting if not positively repulsive.
… The photo-maquette guarantees the coherence of the images while the artist works, but, as he paints, he sees in only in pieces. This incremental hard-by-the-surface approach gives the completed heads a sense of precarious integrity even when they are fully described, as in the continuous tone paintings of the late 1960s and early 1970s. The viewer is drawn toward details that require stepping up to the canvas to the point that other details move to the periphery of vision and begin to lose clarity along with the overall coherence of the image.
[line break added] When the features of a faced are atomized into paint bursts, dots, crossbars, fingerprints, or the hook-rug weave of color circles and lozenges that Close has employed since the mid-1980s, that instability increases to the verge of dissolution, calling into question the perceptual threshold at which image recognition is achieved or lost.
[ … ]
… By refraining from moral or psychological commentary and by withholding personal sympathy, Close has created a psychological zone where it is possible to violate the physical privacy of another human to an unprecedented degree.