From a giant puzzle to drawing stations, the Oklahoma City Museum of Art is offering interactive insight not only into a visionary American artist but also into an art form that remains mysterious to many people.
“Chuck Close: Works on Paper” showcases the many inventive printmaking techniques the National Medal of Arts recipient has used to depict human faces, including the celebrity ones of actor Brad Pitt, model Kate Moss and composer Philip Glass, along with Close's now-famous self-portrait.
The exhibit, which comes from the collections of Jordan D. Schnitzer and his Family Foundation, closes Sunday at the museum.
The exhibit of 88 portraits represents an excellent career overview for “the foremost living contemporary American artist,” said Michael Whittington, museum president and CEO.
“This is the first time that the work of Chuck Close has been presented in Oklahoma in such a comprehensive fashion.”
Close, 73, has been a leading figure in contemporary art for the past four decades. The Monroe, Wash., native came to the fore in the early 1970s with the rise of photorealism. In 1972, the painter delved into printmaking, which, in its most basic forms, involves transferring ink onto paper using a plate run through a press or squeezing ink through a screen onto paper.
“We have a variety of prints … but to just describe them as prints is to do a grave injustice to this exhibition. It's like describing a Maserati as just a car. What Chuck Close has done is he has taken the standard printmaking techniques, and he has reached stratospheric levels in his sophistication and accomplishment,” Whittington said.
“So he's stretching the boundaries of the mediums he's using.”
“Works on Paper” showcases Close's interest and achievement in an array of printmaking techniques, including etchings, linoleum cuts, lithographs, screen prints, woodcuts and paper pulp multiples. There's even a tapestry, the one piece in the exhibit that isn't on paper.
“It's really integrating weaving techniques with digital technology, transferring the image to a mechanical loom,” said Jennifer Klos, Oklahoma City Museum of Art curator.
The exhibition also features an installation of 25 works known as the “Scribble Etching” series that Close created to demystify the printmaking process and show how layers of color flesh out his portraits on paper. Plus, the show includes an entire wall devoted to explaining the numerous techniques he has used — from spitbites to Woodbury types — along with a time-lapse video of the creation of a paper pulp collage.
“There's complexity, there's mystery behind printmaking, because it might be an artistic medium that people haven't participated in … and it's just quite different than picking up paint and a paintbrush,” Klos said.
A giant cube puzzle offers visitors a hands-on opportunity to closely examine several of Close's works, including two of his self-portraits.
In addition, two drawing stations give people a chance to try out the University of Washington graduate's grid method. To create one of his portraits, Close draws a grid over an enlarged photograph, then transfers a pencil version of the grid to canvas or paper. At one drawing station, visitors can sketch a friend by peering through a gridded window; at the other, they can use a gridded mirror to work on a self-portrait. They then can take their grid drawings — and the concept behind them — home.
“You could even take a selfie — one of the most dominant aspects of social media — and (that's) what Chuck Close is doing, he's always been making selfies. He's been portraying himself as a self-portrait throughout much of his career,” Klos said with a smile.
“We hope that our visitors will then really sort of take that as an inspiration, even in using the grid in their own work.”