Saturday, May 14, 2011

I love Chuck Close. And I'd like all of you to love him too.

"I filled the bathtub to the brim with hot water.   A board across the bathtub held my book.   I would shine a spotlight on it.   The rest of the bathroom was dark.   Sitting in the hot water, I would read each page of the book five times out loud so I could hear it.   It I stayed up half the night in the tub till my skin was wrinkles as a raisin, I could learn it.   The next morning I could spit back just enough information to get by on the test."

If you haven't read Chuck Close Up Close yet, make a plan.   He's an amazing artist with a singular style, a style which blossomed out of his learning disabilities.   Isn't the voice of an artist grounded in how he or she processes the world around them?   Do you ever wish that you could step inside the mysterious minds of your students to get a glimpse of how they see the world?   The super-talented Chuck Close will let you inside his!

I was always pulled towards his aesthetic, even more so when I learned about his process.   Most of his work comes right down to a grid.   Remember sitting eyeball to screen with the television as a child and marvelling that those little dots of primary colors created an image that seemed to contain an infinite spectrum when you backed up a few feet?   It's a little like that, but far more soulful.

Mr. Close works from a photograph.   Live models would not be useful as he has difficulties processing faces seen in 3-D; he has a photographic memory for flat objects.   He then constructs a grid on the canvas and decides which color(s) go where, box by box.   "By breaking the image down into small units, I make every decision into a bite-size decision...And eventually I have a painting."

It wasn't until I read Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan's book that I knew that although he was not diagnosed as a child, he would have been considered dyslexic and LD.   As the authors state, not much was known about these topics in the 1940s.

I like to show some of Mr. Close's art using my document camera before I read passages from the book to my students.   It allows me to zoom in and zoom out, something that really highlights the artist's technique and genius.   Recently, the amazing Virginia Museum of Fine Arts showcased some of his work.   The teacher me really felt like she was floating inside the vibrant mind of a twice-exceptional genius.  

Norfolk's Chrysler Museum also has one of his original portraits on display.  Don't ever miss out on seeing great art eyeball to canvas.   And, yes, Chuck is going with me to my new classroom...the book is anyway.  

This is a detail of one of Close's portraits of Phillip Glass.
This is a portion of his mouth.   (Chrysler Museum)

Here's a shot of one of Close's portraits from a distance.
(Virginia Museum of Fine Arts)

If you are also fascinated by the art and mind of Chuck Close, don't miss out on
"The Life and Work of Chuck Close," by Elizabeth Germain Pongratz.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this, Michelle. I think Chuck Close is an inspiration and a reminder to all teachers about the importance of second chances and extra credit.

    I'll be sure to tell Elizabeth about the publicity as well. :-)