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Chuck CLOSE, Bob REDUCE 1/1


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European & American Art
Contemporary gallery

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Chuck CLOSE

United States of America born 1940

Bob 1970 synthetic polymer paint on canvas synthetic polymer paint on canvas
275.0 h x 213.5 w cm
Purchased 1975
Accession No: NGA 75.151
© Chuck Close

  • Reproduced as a postcard, Bob is indistinguishable from the photograph it was copied from but in real life, looming over the viewer, it comes alive as a painting. It is not just that one can see occasional remnants of the original grid, or that the airbrushing does not achieve a convincing edge to the ear: it is that it triumphantly reveals painting’s superiority to photography.

    The invention of photography immediately threatened the livelihood of painters who relied for a steady income on portraiture. A photograph was more accurate, quicker and cheaper. Bob strikes back by revealing that the original photograph recorded far too much about the subject’s skin pores and beard stubble. It also calls attention to the way the camera’s aperture brings his eyes into clear focus at the expense of the hair further back. The camera’s lens seems too intense compared with our kinder and more variable human way of looking.


    Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
    From: Ron Radford (ed), Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2008

  • Bob 1970 is one of a series of eight large black and white portraits that Close painted between November 1967 and April 1970. He began work on Bob in the last months of 1969 and finished at the beginning of 1970.1 Bob immediately preceded Keith 1970 (collection of the artist),2 the last of the black and white series. Close then began using colour in his paintings.

    Like all the black and white heads, Bob is painted from grided photographs onto a gessoed ground using black paint applied with an airbrush to build up the dark tones. White paint is used occasionally for the highlights but more often the black pigment is scraped back using a razorblade or an electric eraser. The subject of the painting is one of Close's friends, Robert Israel, a New York based opera designer. Israel later recalled:

    I had wanted Chuck to ask me to pose for him, but I really didn't feel it was proper for me to ask. Chuck's decision of who he would paint had to do not only with whether you were a friend, but with the topology of your face. And I didn't really think it was my business to ask him if I could pose.

    But eventually he did ask me and Joe Zucker to pose and I recall that it was on Memorial Day that Joe and I went to a photographic studio where Chuck wet up a box camera and took our pictures.3

    During the painting of Bob Close remembers this incident:

    I had taken a break and was walking back into the studio. Looking at the painting, I realised that a highlight in one of the eyes was too bright. And I said, 'Damn it, now I'm going to have to take his glasses off'. But when I realised what I had said, I pivoted on my heel and walked out leaving the lights on, the compressor on and the airbrushes full of paint. When you start believing in your own illusion, you're in serious trouble.4

    At much the same time that Close was working on the painting Bob he made a film portrait of Israel, Slow Pan/Bob 1970 (16mm, black and white, 10 min. duration), in which the slowly moving camera minutely scrutinised areas of the sitter's face. The photograph used by Close for the painting Bob was used again in 1973, when the artist made a series of four pencil and ink drawings.5

    1. William Dyckes, 'The Photo as Subject: The Paintings and Drawings of Chuck Close', Arts Magazine, vol.48, no. 5, February 1974, pp.28-33, p.31.
    2. Keith 1970, synthetic polymer paint on canvas (174.0 x 213.5 cm, 681/2 x 84 in.), in the collection of the artist.
    3. Lisa Lyons and Martin Friedman, Close Portraits, Minneapolis: Walker Arts Center, 1980 (exhibition catalogue), p.65.
    4. ibid., p.34.
    5. Bob no.I/54, 1973; Bob no.II/616, 1973; Bob no.III/2464, 1973; Bob no.IV/9856, 1973, ink and pencil on paper, each 76.2 x 57.2 cm (30 x 221/2 in.), collections Mr and Mrs Paul Gotskind, Chicago.

    Lloyd & Desmond, European & American Paintings and Sculptures 1870–1970 in the Australian National Gallery, Australian National Gallery, 1992


    Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010