Chuck Close is an artist whose career began with early work in superrealism (also known as photorealism). He gained fame in the 1960s with his massive scale portraits, which he created by using gridded photographs and carefully copying one square at a time. At first glance, his subjects often look posed for a photo ID, but upon closer inspection, there are often small emotional details that give his portraits more of a living “aura”. His influence has radically changed the definition of modern portraiture. Throughout his career (which continues today) he experimented with varied drawing and painting techniques, such as ink, graphite, printmaking techniques, etc.
For my piece I’ve selected Big Self-Portrait by Chuck Close, made in 1967-68. This large (107 ½ inches by 83 ½ inches, or roughly 9 foot by 7 foot), black-and-white portrait plays with the idea of what a traditional self-portrait is thought to be in the art world. It shows Close in unshaven manner, smoking a cigarette and looking tired. It is intended to show the unglamorous life of an artist, which is achieved by the combination of detail, pose, and color. The portrait was made painstakingly by enlarging a photo by use of a grid, then airbrushing and hand-painting in every tiny detail.
I like the level of detail and subtle flare of emotion in Close’s early work. So, I decided to make my recreation in a way that emulates the style, color, composition, and intent of his early work without using his creation techniques. His enormous portraits works took him months to complete, so I had to use a different approach to keep the time spent under two hours, but I wanted to keep the end result similar. I wanted a tired-looking, unflattering self-portrait that showed the unglamorous life of a student.
Close used photographs as his source material. So, I took a picture of myself in a similar pose to his self portrait, cut it out and made it black-and-white in photoshop, and placed it on a white background to emulate the composition and color of his work. Instead of re-creating every detail of a photograph using airbrushing and painting techniques, I used digital manipulation and filters in Photoshop to make the photograph look like it was painted or drawn. In order to pay homage to his creation process, I also incorporated a grid into the final piece. The image was enlarged to show detail.
I think that I was somewhat successful in capturing the themes and style of the work. It’s somewhat ironic that Close painstakingly recreated every detail of photographs while I simply used a computer to emulate those effects, but the end creation captures the overall effect that I was hoping to achieve. I also wasn’t able to capture his level of detail because I had to scale the portrait up, and computers can only do so well in inferring detail where there is none. I’ve come to appreciate the difference in effort and process between physically and digitally creating a piece of art. I’ve also realized that trying to emulate someone else’s style is harder than it seems on the surface, but from putting forth the effort, I’ve gained skills that I could put into my own art. If I could do anything different for this piece of art, I’d use a better camera to be able to achieve a higher level of detail.
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Recreating the style of Chuck Close's Big Self Portrait using my own image.