Martin Friedman has written and composed a book about his friend and honored colleague Chuck Close that reads as a fine biography. Friedman, previously with the highly regarded Walker Art Center and now an important art historian and curator for other museums, began his 'conversations' with Chuck Close in 1969 and grew into a close personal as well as professional relationship with the artist and this relationship is evident in the quietly detailed information about Close's well known bout with paralysis and subsequent recovery to the point of continuing to be able to paint. The quality of friendship is palpable.
But Friedman does not limit his writing to simply the personal issues that make Chuck Close a hero in the realm of overcoming tragic blows. This book, better than any of the other many volumes on this innovative artist, provides solid information on the development of Close's technique of producing vast canvases out of pixilated portions, explaining in fine detail how he approaches the portrait from inception through painstaking process, to completed work. No one has explained and illustrated it better.
Once Friedman has shown us process he then shares some of Close's important portraits of fellow artists such as Francesco Clemente and Cindy Sherman and accompanies these experiences with valuable illustrations of the works in addition to Friedman's own conversations with each of the artist models in a way that only a man who has the depth in contemporary art that Friedman can make informational and rational!
For this reader the most satisfying portion of this superb book is Friedman's discussion of the Self Portraits of Chuck Close, works that provided significant bridges between his struggle against physical challenge and emotional recovery. It is not only insightful psychologically; it is a true homage to a contemporary hero. Throughout the book the pages are filled with copious excellent reproductions of the materials discussed.
Highly Recommended on many levels. Grady Harp, November 05
I've been looking for a really good book on Chuck Close on and off for a number of years. None of the ones I'd seen before this really spoke to me. This book has good heft, looks and feel. It is approx. 8.25 x 10.5 x 1.75 inches,and heavy in a way that speaks of quality. It is about the perfect size to prop upon one's breast in bed and read over the course of a few nights.
The color reproductions are adequate, well-spaced, and entirely relevant to the underlying discussion even if one does wish for more and larger at times. This Abrams publication was printed in Singapore and stands as a refreshing reminder of what the Abrams Imprimatur once was.
It is likely an imagined memory but certainly an imaginable one that I reacted to my first exposure to Chuck Close similarly to the way that Close says he did to his first sight of a Pollack. On the other hand, Close's work is so immediate and approachable, not to say facile, that it is equally imaginable that I instantly appreciated it too, that very first sighting.
It occurs to one that this artist is, perhaps more than any, the perfect rendition of Post-Modern. He has taken something timeless and classic and made it modern. To wit, his portraiture is Classical and simultaneously Abstract and Figurative (and literal, too). I don't know his work well, but I know it well enough I think to place him along with Warhol and Lichtenstein (even with the faint question mark hovering above the latter's head). In his work, Close demonstrates the truism, as practiced and taught by certain Japanese Zen sects that true freedom exists only when one has no freedom. Young monks in training at these temples are forced to live their daily lives under tight strictures upon their behaviour as a way for them to gain enlightenment. Chuck Close's psychic monastery would be the portrait and it is fascinating to watch his spirit seek freedom as he has undertaken the many projects that define the arc of his career. Martin Friedman does an excellent job of sticking to the facts, just the facts as he makes a biographical march through the life and times of the artist Close. I found myself marveling at the way the author was able to both keep my attention and not repeat any of his mildly florid descriptions of Mr. Close's work and technique.
Structurally, the book opens with a vaguely biographical description of the artist's life, then treats us to an episodic discussion with and about about a dozen of Mr. Close's, shall we say, muses? The back and forth that the author had with not only the artist but also the subjects of the artist do make for an interesting read; although it is difficult to say that any specific conclusions can or are meant to be drawn from the various discussions.
I do notice that Van Gogh is mentioned a couple of times as a possible analogue to Mr. Close's work, and I found it interesting that Piet Mondrian was also brought up. I guess if I were asked to make an analogy, I'd have to go with Paul Klee meets the Fauves; Mr. Close's later work, of course. A really great thing about Mr. Close's body of work is that it covers so much psychic and aesthetic ground that it doesn't lend itself well to facile analogies.
This book is a treat. It is easily readable and at the same time it doesn't demand to be read closely. The points the author makes are salient and insightful and helpful and not overbearing.
I hesitate to rate this 5 stars only because I am not familiar enough with the topic to know if this book is The book on Chuck Close that one should own. Having said that one definitely should own at least one book about this artist. If this book is not the definitive one; it is yet very close.