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Find Yourself Face to Face

Chuck Close, American, <I>Frank</I>, 1969, Acrylic on canvas
zoom Chuck Close, American, Frank, 1969, Acrylic on canvas


Hair on a chin. A lip. A nostril. A nose. And finally, dark eyes behind thick glasses. It takes time to see the whole of this larger-than-life portrait of Chuck Close's friend Frank. This image is one in a series of giant paintings that Close calls "heads."

Close did not use the real Frank as a model. Instead, he worked from a photograph. He divided the photograph into hundreds of small squares, making a grid. He penciled a much larger grid onto a huge canvas. Then he copied what he saw in the photography onto the canvas, square by square.

Why does Close work this way? He explains: "How do you make a big head? How do you make a nose? I'm not sure. But by breaking the image down into small units, I make each decision into a bite-sized decision."

This picture shows us exactly how Frank looks-every detail of his face. But what is Frank like as a person? There is no hint of a smile-or a frown-on his lips. He keeps his distance behind the shadows of his glasses. The artist is interested in recording what the eye sees, not how he feels about his friend.

In any case, the portrait wasn't for Frank. Chuck Close sells large works like this one to art collectors through New York galleries, for high prices. His giant heads have made him one of America's most famous contemporary artists.