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The Schneider Museum of Art opens ‘Chuck Close: Face Forward’

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Chuck Close, 2000, print from the Collections of Jordan D. Schnitzer and his Family Foundation; © Chuck Close, courtesy Pace Gallery
Chuck Close, 2000, print from the Collections of Jordan D. Schnitzer and his Family Foundation; © Chuck Close, courtesy Pace Gallery

I’m Ready for My Close-up Mr. Schneider

Chuck Close is widely considered one of the greatest living artists in the world, having so permeated contemporary art culture that anyone who has taken a junior high or high school art class probably had an assignment to mimic one of his iconic painting styles. The inclusion of his style in curriculums based on fundamental principles of art is no empty homage; Close’s approach to portraiture is one that has continuously reinvented the medium since he first hit the New York art scene with his striking photorealistic portraits in the late ‘60s, and the artist has continued to shake things up in no small fashion ever since––despite the hand of fate relentlessly sticking spokes in his wheels, throwing footballs at his crotch and knocking over his sandcastles.

And Southern Oregon is getting a chance to see Close’s work up close. The Schneider Museum of Art at Southern Oregon University in Ashland opened a new exhibit of Close’s work at a reception on June 18th. Courtesy of the Collections of Jordan D. Schnitzer and his Family Foundation, the exhibit, Chuck Close: Face Forward, features 78 prints by the artist spanning his career, including work done in Close’s most iconic style, as well as an array of pieces showcasing perhaps lesser known methods employed by the artist, such as mezzotints, woodcuts, screenprints, etchings, tapestries, and some seriously cool business involving metal cylinders.

The exhibit is a hell of a get for Schneider in a region often passed over by big names in non-theater culture,  and this exhibit is not to be missed whether you’re a level 1.6180339887 art nerd or one of those people who likes to “go outside” and “socialize.”

The most recognizable of Close’s work in the show implements a style wherein the artist breaks an image into a grid pattern and builds a reproduction by filling in each unit with small abstract paintings––often concentric circles, triangles, squares or “hot dogs” as the artist describes them. When viewed at a great distance these portraits seem almost photorealistic, but on closer inspection the whole of the image disintegrates into a collection of its parts. This, by the way, results in some semi-treacherous opening receptions; a crowded Close exhibit is a veritable game of Frogger where one is constantly dodging folks walking backward away from the artwork. To view a Chuck Close certainly confuses our natural human inclinations on how to interpret what we see, and pushes the viewer not to lose sight of the forest through the trees (apply metaphorical analogies to life at will).

It’s also worth mentioning that Close is kind of a badass of John McClean proportions when it comes to killing it at life in the face of adversity.

Close is severely dyslexic, and initially got into art because it was “the only thing that gave him a sense of purpose and achievement.” He also suffers from prosopagnosia, colloquially known as face blindness, which gives him extreme difficulty recognizing faces and remembering people by sight. (Close has said, “I think I was driven to paint portraits to commit images of friends and family to memory. …Once a face is flattened out, I can remember it much better.”)

Then there was this one time in 1988 when he suffered a spinal aneurism and was left partially paralyzed and permanently confined to a wheelchair. Close was able to regain partial use of his limbs through extensive therapy, and proceeded to strap paintbrushes to his wrist so he could continue painting––employing this method until he later regained the dexterity to control a brush with the aid of a hand brace. Implementing assistive devices like motorized easels to raise, lower and turn his massive canvasses to appropriate working height, Close has consistently churned out work since his spine gave him the middle finger nearly three decades ago, and is today among the most successful living artists on the planet.

The Schneider exhibit will run through September 5th, but don’t mug yourself by waiting too long and forgetting to bike to something you might normally have to fly to New York or L.A. to see. Go in a group if you want to practice your duck and dodge skills.


Chuck Close: Face Forward––from the Collections of Jordan D. Schnitzer and his Family Foundation

June 19 – Sep. 5, 2015, Mon – Sat, 10 am – 4 pm

Schneider Museum of Art, Southern Oregon Univ.1250 Siskiyou Blvd, Ashland

$5 suggested donation

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