Chuck Close Goes Digital with Catalogue Raisonné from Artifex Press

Artist Chuck Close has described his work as “monumental in scale and brutal in detail.” The phrase is just as apt when referring to the painstaking process of cataloguing his oeuvre, according to Carina Evangelista, the editor of the Chuck Close Catalogue Raisonné. The just-launched publication puts a new spin on the form–a comprehensive, annotated listing of all the known works of an artist either in a particular medium or all media–as Chuck Close: Paintings, 1967-present also marks the official launch of Artifex Press, a New York-based startup dedicated to the production of digital catalogues raisonnés.

“Our catalogues are every bit the equal of the catalogues raisonnés you know in book form,” said Artifex Press editor-in-chief David Grosz at the launch event held recently at the New York Public Library. “We’re a publishing company, but we’re also a software company.” Grosz co-founded Artifex in 2009 with Pace Gallery’s Marc Glimcher. The Close catalogue debuted alongside Jim Dine: Sculpture, 1983-present, and will be followed by catalogues raisonnés of Sol LeWitt and Agnes Martin. Projects are also in progress with contemporary artists including Tara Donovan, Thomas Nozkowski, James Siena, and Richard Tuttle.

With the help of a Macbook, Grosz and Evangelista clicked through a tour of the Close catalogue and its fuss-free functionality as the charismatic artist himself provided running commentary. “It’s a nauseating amount of images,” said Close, as they did a quick sort for self-portraits and his “Big Self Portrait” (1967-68, pictured above) filled the screen. “When I put this image in books I have to add a disclaimer telling kids not to smoke.” Later, it was on to archival photos. “Oh look, there’s Joseph Beuys looking at my painting,” Close said of a 1974 snapshot of the German artist sizing up a Close canvas. “I didn’t know he cared.”

With the crowd hanging on his every word, Close discussed his working process (“I always said inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of just show up and get to work.”), being pigenholed as a portraitist (“Cézanne painted apples. You don’t call him an apple painter.”), why he paints a canvas on an angle (“So I don’t paint what I know to be true but what I know that I see.”), and the one that got away: “The one person I always wanted to paint was Sol LeWitt,” said Close wistfully. “I thought, now there’s a guy who knows about grids.”