Chuck Close: Prints, Process and Collaboration

Many a visitor to the National Gallery in Canberra have been struck with awe at the enormity of Chuck Close’s Bob, a giant in both scale and technical skill, the incredulity of the subject as striking as its extraordinary photorealism. Until March next year, Sydneysiders have the unique opportunity to view a significant collection of the American’s work, including Bob, at the Museum of Contemporary Art, in ‘Chuck Close: Prints, Process and Collaboration’, part of the Sydney International Art Series.

The largest exhibition of Close to ever be held in Australia, and indeed the Southern Hemisphere, this is a substantial, revelatory show that is remarkable for its thematic focus on prints and process. Each space takes you on a journey much bigger than the singular artwork — Close, an avid documentarian it seems, has meticulously kept many of his state proofs as well as linoleum and wood blocks, which are displayed alongside their final product. The extraordinary Emma (2012) was produced in collaboration with New York printer Yasu Shibata, who aided in the creation of Japanese ukiyo-e woodcut prints of a much larger scale than had been thought possible prior (‘collaboration’ being the term Close likes to use in reference to the relationship between himself and his printers). In a horizontal progression, viewers have the privilege of following the making of Emma, through observation of several original wood blocks, each in their individual colour. The painstaking care that has gone into this work is powerfully evident here.

The works traverse the spectrum of printmaking through time, with adjacent rooms featuring woodburytype prints of Willem Dafoe and Brad Pitt, a 19th century printmaking technique, versus more contemporary, digitised archival prints in the form of Kara I (2012) and others. A love of print-making and of the process behind this medium drives Close’s work, and the exhibition clearly displays the methodical nature of his practice, defined by systematisation. Room 3 of the exhibition places John (1998) alongside a series of state proofs that reveal the colouring process behind the print, exemplifying Close’s extremely methodical practice. Exhibition curator Terrie Sultan says, “this is certainly one of the only solo shows of this printing process in which you can see how the works are made, and that is a tribute to Chuck and his absolute inability to ever throw anything away… he makes art to communicate with his audience, and that is why he is so willing to share his process.”

Through this exhibition there is a palpable sense of boundary pushing, a feeling that the essence of Close’s practice is the challenge of medium, of pushing each medium, whether it be print-making or painting, to its absolute limit. “[This exhibition] is an important moment in terms of print making — it is the largest single print show in Australia, and shows the potential for print-making and how radical it really is,” consulting curator Glenn Barkley says. “When you think about an international art series, you have to hit that core art audience and the general public, and I think Chuck is one of those rare people who actually targets both equally.”

Museum of Contemporary Art Australia
Until 15 March, 2015