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Chuck Close Unveils Magic-Making System

After decades of creating art, Chuck Close decided it was time to lift the curtain and show the public how his pieces were created. The result is the long-touring exhibit “Chuck Close Prints: Process and Collaboration” now on display at the Corcoran Gallery of Art.

The exhibition, with more than 100 finished works, has been touring the world since 2003, making stops at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Miami Art Museum. It aims to demystify the process by which Close creates his masterpieces. Not only are many of Close’s seminal works on display, but so are the means by which they were created.

“Most people have no idea how art happens,” Close said in an interview at the Corcoran. With this exhibit, “I want the magic of pulling a rabbit out of the hat, but I’m going to show you how I pull it out.”

For example, Close’s silkscreen piece “John” (1998), a depiction of artist John Chamberlain, is on display alongside several of the plates used to create the print. The final product contains 126 colors, the evolution of which is displayed on the plates used to create the portrait. Each print adds another 10 colors until the product is finally finished.

Visitors can see how the colors changed from extremely bright to darker as Close went along.

“We slowly sneak up on what we want and find it,” Close said of his art-making process.

The exhibit includes more than 100 finished works from varied mediums including painting, drawing, photography and printmaking. Different methods are used in many of the pieces including silkscreen, Japanese-style woodcut and lithography. Most of Close’s pieces start with a photograph of a person’s head and then he spends up to a year and a half turning the photo into a print.

Assistant curator Amanda Maddox said in a release, “Through his collaborations with printers, and with his interest in methods and technologies, Close generates prints that acknowledge and utilize traditional processes but also propel them into a new era. The results are visually stunning.”

Close, born in Monroe, Wash., earned a Master of Fine Arts with a focus on printmaking and painting from Yale University. He began his career in abstract painting before switching gears in the 1960s and taking an interest in drawings and paintings of himself and his family. He created portraits of his own face more than anyone else, despite having said he doesn’t think he is particularly good-looking. In 1988, he suffered a spinal artery collapse that left him partially paralyzed, though he continues to create art with the help of collaborators.

The art on display at the Corcoran includes older pieces as well as new ones. The first work one sees upon entering the gallery is “Keith/Mezzotint,” from 1972, the first major project Close created after establishing himself as an artist. It uses a 17th-century form of engraving that creates a range of tonal effects, called mezzotint. The work is accompanied by five smaller frames that show the process.

“Nobody had done [mezzotint] for a long time, and I like to engage myself in something without worrying what everyone else is doing,” Close said.

The exhibition is possible because Close was dedicated to keeping the matrices and proofs that were used to make much of his art.

“I kept this stuff because I loved the way it looked, and it’s a record of my thought process,” he said.

The exhibit will run at the Corcoran through Sept. 12. Visitors can check it out free on Saturdays through Sept. 4 as a part of the gallery’s free summer Saturday program.

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