… Finally, it was a question of recognizing that I had a particular nature …
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Chuck Close: … I remember when I first got to New York and started seeing objects that prior to that I had only seen in books, and the thing that really became a thrill was finding something that didn’t look like art. There’s that wonderful moment when you see something that just doesn’t look like art, and you are both excited and outraged at the same time and think, “Wait a minute. You can’t do this! Art has to have this and that and that, and this object doesn’t have any of those qualities. What is going on here?”
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CC: … I remember in 1968 or ’69 Richard Serra was in my studio looking at my paintings, and we were talking about how you make decisions as an artist. He said something which I’ll never forget: “Making decisions as an artist is the easiest thing in the world because the important thing to do is to separate yourself from everyone else. Certain decisions are more difficult than other decisions.
[line break added] Every time you come to a Y in the road, one way to go is more difficult than the other. So you automatically take the difficult road because everybody else is taking the easy road, and if you do that you will automatically put yourself out in some field all by yourself.” Yes, I think we were definitely concerned with the notion of rigorousness, difficulty, or whatever.
[line break added] I remember sitting around with Joe Zucker once, and we were watching some sporting event in which the judges would hold up one card and give a score for what it was that the athlete had done, and then hold up a second card for degree of difficulty. And we thought critics ought to be doing the same thing. This is what you accomplished but this is for the degree of difficulty.
Robert Storr: Critics do. [Laughter]
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CC: You know sometimes you do something to correct something that you think is an essential flaw in your nature. And if you do that, you have your own reasons to make things, not the art world’s reasons. There were a number of issues that I discovered by myself when I was a junior Abstract Expressionist, one of which was that painting allover drove me crazy. You do something on the upper left-hand corner and that changes the way the lower right-hand corner looks, so you go down and you do that.
[line break added] And then what you just painted there falls off the canvas. I found myself applying first aid to paintings and saving little precious areas that I loved, but couldn’t be ruthless enough to paint out anything so that when the whole painting was full of precious areas that I couldn’t afford to paint out, I was done. The problem was that the painting wasn’t conceived of as a whole; it never came together; it was just a series of fractured elements that I happened to like.
And then I had violent aesthetic mood swings. I would be wildly excited about the way it was going, and then I would just crash. It would be the most depressing thing in the world. I’d have a great start, and then the whole thing would end up in the toilet. Then I would try and save it, but I gradually realized that this is not a way of working that I was very well suited for. I needed something that was more positive as an experience, something you could add to every day and, if you keep doing it, eventually you get there.
There are other things about my nature that I didn’t like. You know, I’m such a slob — how did I end up making these neat relatively tight paintings? Finally, it was a question of recognizing that I had a particular nature, that I was lazy and slobby and indecisive. I realized that to deal with your nature is also to construct a series of limitations which just doesn’t allow you to behave the way you most naturally want to behave.
[line break added] So, I found it incredibly liberating to work for a long time on something even though I’m impatient. I found it perfectly fine in the middle of squalor and half-eaten sandwiches and beer cans full of cigarette butts to sit in this mess and make very neat, precise paintings. It did not seem like such a dichotomy or such a denial of who I was. It seemed like I was taking care of who I was.