Chuck Close, painter of outsized photorealistic portraits, dies aged 81 | Chuck Close

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Chuck Close, known for creating huge, highly detailed, photo-realistic paintings of himself and fellow artists, has died aged 81.

The painter rose to fame in the 1970s and 1980s, portraying peers including Philip Glass and Cindy Sherman. But his career was marred by numerous sexual harassment allegations made in 2017 but dating back to 2005.
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Born Charles Thomas Close in Monroe, Washington, in 1940, the artist was raised by his pianist mother and plumber father, who died when Chuck was 11. to complete a Master of Fine Arts program at Yale in 1964, along with other artists who would become famous, including Richard Serra and Jennifer Bartlett.

Close made his first self-portrait in 1968. It is still one of his best-known – the artist stares at the camera with unkempt hair, thick-rimmed glasses and a lit cigarette between his lips. Titled Big Self-Portrait, it lived up to its name with a height of almost three meters. Impossible to distinguish from a photograph, it depicted Close as a rebellious figure, which was appropriate as he went against the grain of the abstract and pop art of the time. The sheer scope of his work also set him apart from his photorealistic colleagues – critics often said seeing them in person was a visceral experience.

Chuck Close photographed in 1981 at his retrospective at the Whitney in New York.
Chuck Close photographed in 1981 at his retrospective at the Whitney in New York. Photo: Jack Mitchell/Getty Images

Close added color to his repertoire in the 1970s, depicting his friend, the painter Mark Greenwold, in amazing detail for Mark’s 1979 work. A year later, he had his first major retrospective at the Walker art Downtown Minneapolis. Close once said of his practice: “Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work.”

In 1988, Close’s career appeared to be over after he was paralyzed from the neck down by a collapsed vertebral artery. However, after months of rehabilitation, he learned to paint again, reinventing his style with brushes attached to his wrist. He is said to have told friends, “I’ll spit on the canvas if I have to.” His later work continued to be acclaimed with portrait subjects, including Lou Reed and Bill Clinton.

In 2017, Close was accused of sexually inappropriate verbal behavior by several women who only posed for paintings in his studio. Close said he was “really sorry” if he made the women feel uncomfortable and accepted that he had spoken with a “dirty mouth” as he assessed their bodies. But he did not accept the allegation of harassment. A scheduled exhibition at the National Gallery of Art in Washington in 2018 was: canceled as a result.

Close was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2013, and then dementia in 2015. His doctor, Thomas M Wisniewski, told the New York Times that this condition could be responsible for the actions he was accused of:[Close] was very uninhibited and did inappropriate things, which were part of his underlying medical condition. Frontotemporal dementia affects executive function. It’s like a patient having a lobotomy — it destroys that part of the brain that controls behavior and inhibits basic instincts.”

Close died at a hospital in Oceanside, New York, of congestive heart failure. He is survived by his daughters, Georgia and Maggie, and four grandchildren.

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