28 Nov

Chuck Close Hits the Nail on the Head Re: The Failure of Most Artists.

But he didn’t say it first, I’m convinced.

Chuck Close Oral History Interview Conducted by Judd Tully for the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, 1987

JUDD TULLY: You must have been quite sophisticated in comparison to other people that were around in terms of being exposed to a lot of art.

CHUCK CLOSE: Yes. And I was a great student. I was exactly what everybody had in mind. I knew what art looked like and I could make something. Being a good student is a double-edged sword, I guess, because I got lots of pats on the head, I got lots of scholarships, I got grants and stuff Fulbrights and all that sort of stuff – because I was a good student and because of the relative ease with which I could make things that looked like art. The trouble is, if it looks like art, it must look like someone else’s art or it wouldn’t look like art. When I met De Kooning I said, “How do you do? My name is Chuck Close. I’m the person who’s made almost as many De Koonings as you’ve made.” [laughs] It’s true. I was De Kooning or I was Hans Hofmann or I was whoever it was.

JUDD TULLY: This would be familiarity from magazines, from –

CHUCK CLOSE: Yes. Growing up in Everett and Seattle and going to college there was a real cultural backwater. And the mountains are a kind of emotional distancing device. Seattle was not like other cities in America – or wasn’t then. It really drew the wagons into the circle. They loved themselves and they always referred to it as ‘God’s country’ and they hate everywhere else even though they’ve never been there. The whole culture if there is an interest in culture, which there’s very little, or was in the fifties, at least they looked towards the Orient. The art history courses were on Japanese art or were interested in American. They did American Indian art and Eskimo – Alaskan. There was virtually no interest in Western culture. Everybody who traveled had been to Japan. I never knew anybody who had been to Europe. New York was viewed with great suspicion. The heroes – the gods – were the people like Mark Tobey, who had gone to live in a Zen Buddhist monastery in Japan. Of course they overlooked the fact that he then went to live in Ireland or wherever the hell he was. Or was that Morris Graves? But there was tremendous suspicion of New York and those things. I immediately wanted to make stuff that was about New York. Alden Mason was very supportive. He was somebody who would not make great Northwest mystic paintings. To paraphrase Gertrude Stein, as soon as I discovered there was a there there, I went to it. I got out of Seattle, which I saw as an intellectual and cultural backwater, and wanted to go where it really was happening. The other part of being a good student is that it’s very hard then to develop any kind of personal idiosyncratic vision because your hand moves in art ways. It wants to make art shapes. I supposedly had a good sense of color. As far as that’s concerned, I think I had discovered that certain color combinations look more like art than other color combinations. So there were many, many habits and many skills which were developed in school that had served me very well as a student which later became a big problem in terms of differentiating myself from everyone else and trying to find out who I was, different from other artists.