A Visit With Art-World Hero Chuck Close

From The Village Voice:

CcLou Reed's got wrinkles in his wrinkles.” Artist Chuck Close and I are in his ground-floor studio on Bond Street. He's describing a giant tapestry of Reed's face that he's hoping to have ready by mid October. The studio is jammed with assistants color-correcting dyes, poring over photographic images, and managing office business. It's an especially busy time for Team Close—the 72-year-old painter is preparing for his long-awaited fall show at Chelsea's Pace Gallery. Arrayed around the walls are some of his closest friends—Roy, Paul, Philip, Laurie, Cindy. In his relaxed company, it's practically immaterial that they're all celebrities. “I always wanted to make paintings of ordinary, undistinguished people,” Close says as if reading my thoughts. “It's not my fault they became famous.” There's a certain kind of virtuosity that amplifies its achievements by a million trillion. Beethoven composed his Ninth Symphony while deaf. James Joyce wrote Finnegans Wake with a magnifying glass. Barack Obama became the 44th president of the United States while black.

For people who love art, young or old, with-it or fusty, Republican or Democrat, the painter Chuck Close has long formed part of this virtuosic pantheon. An artist celebrated like few people in or out of the art world, Close commands not just attention, but also bona fide affection. To see him at huge museum affairs, art-fair openings, or charitable events is to see Moses part waters thick with social climbing, calculation, and envy. His presence—like that of a civil rights leader or sports hero—is mollifying. As he once put it to me, “For the last 14 years, I've not gone a day where I go outside and don't have someone tell me how much they like what I do. I'm really very, very lucky.” Never mind that Chuck Close is a partial quadriplegic and largely confined to a wheelchair.

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