Welcome 2008 with Chuck Close

Chuck Close 1997.jpgOr at least the new documentary about him, now playing at Film Forum in New York City through January 8th. Directed and produced by the late independent filmmaker Marion Cajori, Chuck Close traces the artist’s evolution, surveys his influences and peers, and follows the 82-day creation of a self-portrait (at right) that is now in the Museum of Modern Art’s permanent collection. Along the way, the viewer gets to know a warm, articulate, serene, and joyful individual who just happens to have reinvented the art of portraiture.

“There’s a nauseating amount of me in the film, I think, but at least it’s mitigated by the fact that there are all these other mini-portraits of other artists and friends and my family, and I think that’s what makes the film so interesting,” said Close when we chatted with him just before Christmas. Among the subjects of these mini-portraits are Brice Marden, Elizabeth Murray, Dorothea Rockburne, Lucas Samaras, and the puckish Robert Rauschenberg, who describes Close’s early work as having “an uncontrolled rawness” while characterizing his later work as possessing “a mystery that one may never decipher.”

Close 2007.jpgThe film goes a long way to aid in that deciphering, focusing on Close’s faith in and emphasis on the process (rather than the result) of artmaking, an approach shared by other artists of his generation, such as composer Philip Glass, whose musical portrait of Close is included in the film. “We used self-imposed limitations and other things that would guarantee that we would have to move from where we were to someplace else,” Close told us. “And then we knew that we were signing on to a system and that if we followed that, wherever that went, that we had a chance to make our art more personal and specific to our vision rather than what was going on in general in the art world.”

When asked about Cajori, herself the child of two New York painters, Close said, “I think that she understood how art happens and tried to make it available to the audience, many of whom–many of the lay public–have no idea how a painting gets made. I think that was really from her understanding of what it is to be an artist and the nature of the process that you go through to make stuff.”