Guest Writer: Dr. Todd Giles, Assistant Professor of English and WFMA Advisor Board member
In 2014 the WFMA’s Collectors Circle purchased Chuck Close’s 2000 Self Portrait/Scribble/Etching. Throughout his career, Close has worked to expand the printmaker’s milieu by experimenting with various techniques for his close-cropped head-and-shoulders portraits, such as linocut, silkscreen, woodcut, etching, and most recently, the use of large-scale digital printers using water-based pigments and rag paper. A twelve-plate soft ground etching, Self Portrait/Scribble/Etching shows a bearded and bespectacled Close with his blue eyes slightly upturned. The portrait is so tightly cropped that the top of Close’s forehead, the edge of his glasses, his chin, and the tip of one ear are left to the imagination. This close cropping eliminates the background from the composition, focusing all of our attention on Close’s face. As with many of his portraits, when viewed up close, Self Portrait/Scribble/Etching presents the viewer with a jumble of colors; when viewed from further back, though, the small soft squiggles of color form a more recognizable, realistic image of the artist.
The practice of portraiture in post-World War II American art sets Close apart from his contemporaries. His interest in portraiture is related to the fact that he suffers from a condition known as prosopagnosia or face blindness, which makes it difficult for him to distinguish people by their facial features. He addressed this in Bomb Magazine in 1995, saying, “I was not conscious of making a decision to paint portraits because I have difficulty recognizing faces. That occurred to me twenty years after the fact when I looked at why I was still painting portraits, why that still had an urgency for me.” Another interesting fact when looking at Self Portrait/Scribble/Etching is that Close suffered from a debilitating spinal artery collapse in 1988 which left him partially paralyzed and wheelchair-bound. “The Event,” as he calls it, forced him to think of new ways to continue his craft. In the case of painting, he straps a brush to his wrist and creates large-scale portraits in a kind of pointillist or pixilated form by using starting with a tight grid in which each square is painted individually. When seen from afar, the paintings create a captivating, almost pulsating, unified image.
Formed in 2005, the Collectors Circle helps further the Museum’s collecting mission and also ensures that no state funds are used for the purchase of art. To date, members of the Collectors Circle have donated a total of $58,859, enabling the addition of forty-eight important artworks to the Museum’s permanent holdings.