Chuck Close's artwork looks like photography from afar, but up close, it's made of amorphous blobs of color

Chuck Close, one of the greats of the Modern American art scene, has passed away at 81.

Up close, Close’s portraits distort and disappear like when you sit too close to a cathode ray television. They’re made of “pixels” in amorphous shapes, each one featuring a number of colors. Only when you step back does the detailed portrait appear. And you can step quite a ways back – Chuck Close’s art tends to be massive, even mural-sized.

Born in 1940 in Monroe, Washington, Close studied art at the University of Washington in Seattle; Yale University in Connecticut; and the Akademie der Bildenden Künste Wien (Academy of Fine Arts) in Vienna. While he was developing his iconic style, he taught painting at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

The art Close loved as a young man in the 50s and 60s was abstract impressionism, but he took impressionism in a new direction. His portraits, the smallest of which are about six feet by six feet, look almost like photos from a distance. But up close, the geometric blobs of color that make up each image give them a psychedelic bent that made him very popular in the late 70s and 80s.

He attributed his love of portraiture to the difficultly he had in recognizing faces.

“Everything in my work is determined by my learning disabilities and my problems, one of which is face blindness,” he said in a 2015 interview.

In 1988, at 48 years old, Close suffered a stroke in his spine that paralyzed his finer motor functions, but he simply strapped a brush to his arm and returned to painting.

Chuck Close has had exhibitions in MoMA, the Whitney Museum of Modern Art, and hundreds of other American institutions. His art decorates several stations in the New York City subway and inspired the Obama “Hope” poster by Shepard Fairey.

Close was diagnosed with dementia in 2015, and his passing is attributed to long-term illness.

Image: Rushay /