If you've spent any time at art museums, you've undoubtedly seen the work of Chuck Close. I'm always taken aback when I round a corner and see one of his early, photo-realistic faces staring down at me—they're huge (his 1968 Big Self Portrai
t (below), which I first saw at the Walker Art Museum when I was in college, is nearly 9'x7').
So yesterday I was reading Spark: How Creativity Works by Julie Burstein
, when I came upon a chapter about Chuck Close and his creative process (I am loving this book, by the way—based on the Studio 360
radio show, which despite being an avid NPR listener I've never heard). Close talks about the way that, because he is learning disabled, he has always created his paintings with a grid. Early on, it served to break the huge portraits into manageable chunks and for many years he would erase the grid (like he did in Big Self Portrait
). But eventually he incorporated it into his work. Over time, the photorealism of his images—which had been created with tiny, tiny dots and brushstrokes—gave way to a more expressive way of painting, in which the faces in his paintings are evident if you stand way back, but up close they're hard to see. And lo and behold, he credits the textile arts as an influence.
"I know that one of the important primal experiences for me as a child was watching my grandmother knit and crochet and make quilts and afghans and things like that, which look a lot like my work today. She would crochet pieces and put them together to make even bigger pieces. A lot of what I do has a lot to do with what was called women's work—a process that you sign on to and you keep working at it until you get something. I think it has a lot to do with construction, and I try to build a painting rather than paint it."
Of course, if you look at Close's work it's easy to see this, but it somehow hadn't crossed my mind. I got mighty excited knowing that Close's commanding works have their roots in his grandmother's tiny stitches, proof that however simple or mundane your work might seem, you never know the influence it can have.