The Marxist Analysis enables a piece of illustration or artwork to be put in its historical, social and cultural context. This can be done by analysing the production, consumption and status of the image. The work of Chuck Close can be analysed in this way to discover its purpose and context. I am particularly interested in the dramatic shift in the work of Chuck Close and the way he completely changed his style and way of working. I chose to analyse a number of pieces of his work because I have always loved his unique style and admired how much effort he puts into creating each individual piece.
Using the Marxist Analysis to analyse this image reveals a great amount of information which would help give the viewer a greater understanding of its context and the reasons why it was produced.
This piece was produced the year Close completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Washington in the 1950's. At this time Close's work was the complete opposite of realism, the style he is now most famous for. When he arrived at the UW from Everett Community College in the 1950's he was heavily influenced by Art Professor Alden Mason, his UW mentor's work.
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It is compositionally similar to his mentor's work but also Willem De Kooning, whom was an inspiration to Close at the as well as many other New York painters at the time. Close's brushwork shows a lot of energy and shows how improvisational the piece was, with no set idea of the end result, as was the case with most of the abstract work he made at this time. This artwork was derived from a friend of Close's at the university.
A few years later, Close changed his style completely, after leaving the UW for Yale in 1962. He stopped producing abstract paintings and started making photorealist portraits. He changed his style and moved away from abstraction because he wanted to 'find his own voice'. He did not want to produce work similar to Kooning or his UW mentor, which shows how dramatically the social and cultural context affected his work.
His first piece of work in this new style was Big Self Portrait, a black and white image of his face which was a 107.5 inches by 83.5 inches canvas, produced over four months in 1968. Chuck Close produced seven additional black and white portraits during this time. He once said that he used such diluted paint in the airbrush that every one of the eight paintings were produced using a single tube of black acrylic. This technique started out with a series of portraits in black and white, and the artist began using more colours in the 1970's.
The tools used to produce this piece included an eraser mounted to a power drill, an airbrush, rags and a razor blade which were all often used by Close at this time.
The Semiotic analysis can also be used to look at this artwork, which studies the use of a set of signs which enables the intended audience to understand the artwork's meaning. Close wanted to send a different message to people, he wanted to show that abstract art was not the way forward and that art should be personal. He did this by producing work that was unlike any one else's at the time to make his message clear.
His new painting style resembled photography and was dramatically different to any of his previous work of abstract expressionism. With his new way of working Close demonstrated that portrait painting, a very traditional art form could be renewed as a challenging contemporary expression. Close did not work in the same way as anyone else at the time, showing that the social and cultural context really was a major factor in his change of style. His portraits focused on the hair, skin and details such as wrinkles, rather than on the eyes, as many other artists at the time did. Such realism was created as Close captured every pore and wrinkle, he even blurred out things further away from the face, as a real camera lens blurs the background of a photo.
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He is often described as a photo realist due to his attention to detail but could also be thought of as part of the development of minimalism and process art of the 1960-70's.
In the 1980's, Close began venturing towards abstraction, often working using fingerprinting with ink to fill the canvas grid, as used here with Phil 1969. The canvas he produced became much larger but the realism remained if the viewer were to stand at a distance, however if the piece was viewed close up it would appear almost completely abstract.
However, he was not able to continue working in this way after suffering from a spinal cord injury in 1988, which caused him to lose mobility in all parts of his body except a small amount of movement in his neck. His accident left him feeling helpless and many believed this was the end of his career as an artist. However, he did not give up and continued producing artwork by holding a paintbrush between his teeth and painting small pixel-like sections to make up a larger image. He soon regained some movement in his upper arm and was able to produce artwork even more freely. He was then able to paint by strapping a brush to his wrist with tape.
Although the paintings produced after his accident differ in method from his previous work, the process in which Close works remains the same. He creates large portraits made up of grid squares created by an assistant which he copies from cell by cell. Chuck Close fills each square with an oval composed of coloured rings of paint on a contrasting background, which gives each cell a seemingly average hue when viewed from a distance. When the viewer moves further away, the portrait appears to be one unified image, showing that although he can only paint in pixelated form, Close still attempts to create photo reality.
Even though his paralysis limited his ability to produce such meticulously painted work as before, Close had placed artificial boundaries on his hyperrealist approach even before his injury. He always used techniques and materials that were not the most effective in achieving a photorealistic effect such as inked fingerprints and small pieces of paper. However, Close showed that he could still produce amazingly realistic results even though using the most uncontrollable materials.
Chuck Close usually works in stages as he does here in Self Portrait completed in 2000, however in this piece the scribble shapes are not enclosed by a grid. Close's hand drawn pencil lines seem very physical in this print. This piece was made using colour separations of the primary colours red, blue and yellow. Using this technique meant that Close had to think of the face as a whole rather than as cells in a grid, even though he had no idea how it would look until the final layer had been added..
This print is reasonably small when compared with Close's other work as it is only 18 inches by 15 inches. This portrait zooms in on the artist's face, cropping it off, creating an extreme close up. This may symbolise the mature artist confronting both himself and the viewer with a series of more intimate work with a more hand drawn feel as he looks back on his career. It seems the artist wanted to show everyone exactly how he produced this piece to demystify the process and give them a greater understanding of his work and himself. This piece would have demanded a great amount of time and planning as each stage had to be executed perfectly.
Chuck Close currently works using a method developed after he became partially paralysed. I believe his work now has more depth than when he was producing 'Super realistic' pieces. Now each artwork is realistic when admired from a distance but then seems completely abstract when inspected up close.
In conclusion the cultural context of Close's work contributes a lot to its meaning. At a time of Abstract Expressionism he went against the mainstream with his photorealistic portraits and redefined portraiture. Using the semiotic analysis is becomes clear that Close purposely sends messages through signs in his work such. He does this by creating unique artwork to show that it is best to be individual rather than follow the rest of society. His portraits always show neutral expressions to let the viewer make assumptions about each person, as we do when we meet new people. Close never depicts a person laughing or looking sad, as this would be the only content the viewer would read from it. Close's work shows humanity as it really is and lets people read what they want from the information in the image, such as laughter lines or brow furrows. This lets every person receive a different message from one of Close's works, which is the message he has been sending out through his entire life in the various signs in his work.
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