We are beyond honored to present our exclusive interview with maybe the greatest living artist, Mr. Chuck Close.
This is a very important piece of Urban-Muse’s history. It was originally recorded as a video nearly 3 years ago, and posted on youtube for the public. The original video was low-res and the lighting was non-existent, but the content is key. We are re-releasing it as a text feature because we feel it’s more effective that way.
I can’t really talk about this interview without explaining and editorializing how the hell it happened. Urban-Muse was founded a few months before this, and was getting under a hundred views a week. It was just a simple portfolio for me, and some studies I was doing. I decided I was going to embark on a journey to meet all of my artistic heroes, ask them the questions that were plaguing me, and post them up for the world to see. The #1 artist on this list was who I considered (and still do) to be the greatest living artist was Chuck Close. Not simply because of his amazing work, but because of him as a person. I felt that by meeting him I would be able to greater understand my hero, and that it was important for me, and the arts community.
And boy was I right.
Mr. Close was working on this Self Portrait the Day that I came to visit his studio.
It turned out to be a grand slam. Everything that we talked about that afternoon has come to pass, and his words became engraved in my head. I had these words literally memorized. A lot of time has passed. I got what I wanted, met my heroes, made lots of art, went to art school, showed, curated, sold, got some press, and Urban-Muse is a huge website and the network of sites can get 20,000+ views a day. Making art has provided me with the highest highs, and the lowest lows. The company I founded (you’re looking at it) has helped inspire myself and others to keep producing art and continuing to make it better, and pushing the arts towards progression and growth. And it couldn’t have been possible without the words of my hero: Chuck Close.
I was able to secure this interview after months of dealing with Mr. Close’s publisher, assistants, and Pace Wildenstein Gallery, until one day I was in Manhattan, and the stars aligned and they said he had a few minutes for me.
Monday, March 24, 2008
URBAN-MUSE: Thank you Mr. Close for spending a couple minutes out of your valuable, valuable day. My name is Curt Anderson, and first and foremost I would like to say it’s fantastic to finally meet someone who’s done more Chuck Close’s than me.
Editorial Note: At the time I had been studying Chuck Close’s work very heavily and even produced a series of 10 foot Oil Portraits intended as homages to him. (This is how I got the interview.) This phrase is a direct corollary to something I read that Mr. Close said when he met Willem DeKooning for the first time. Chuck Close was about my age as he had be feverishly imitating DeKooning during his time at Yale. Upon meeting the man, his hero, he said “It’s great to finally meet someone who’s done more DeKooning’s than me.”
CHUCK CLOSE: *Laughs and smiles* I probably haven’t done that many more.
Chuck Close with his Painting of close friend Phillip Glass
URBAN-MUSE: First off, kind of a standard question as an artist. Obviously you stretch your canvases in house, but what kind of bracing and stretchers do you use? I used some called “Hercules” when I tried mine. (To mixed results)
CHUCK CLOSE: I used to make my own stretchers, we have custom made stretchers made now. Nothing fancy. And then my assistants stretch the linen, prime the canvas with rabbit skin glue, and then prime it with white lead.
URBAN-MUSE: I heard Rothko used Rabbit skin glue.
CHUCK CLOSE: Yeah.
Study for “Keith”
URBAN-MUSE: The next question is an advice question: What would be your advice to a young artist, perhaps who can’t afford art school that would help advance their artistic career?
CHUCK CLOSE: If you can’t afford Art school at all?
CHUCK CLOSE: Well it’s tough.
URBAN-MUSE: Let’s say geographically, just say you couldn’t go to art school.
CHUCK CLOSE: Well, I’m not a big believer in Art School anyhow. I think a good liberal arts education with some art in it (is good). And most places you know, there are Junior Colleges, there are Community Colleges, there are all kinds of places that are reasonable. And I would do that.
I think it’s very hard, it’s very hard. You gotta get work habits, you gotta get your ass out of bed in the morning and go somewhere, learning stuff.
The mind is a muscle, it flexes the muscle.
And then if you do well you can transfer or get into Graduate school or something like that.
I think it’s very hard to be an uneducated artist today.
There are times when that was possible, up through the 40’s and 50’s, most artist’s weren’t, certainly Graduate school educated, but they had something.
I think today it’s very difficult to acquaint yourself with the issues you’re going to want to deal with on your own.
You’ve got to get used to criticism and develop a thick skin. You’ve got to talk about other people’s work and they’ve got to talk about yours.
Because, you’re learning a language.
And just like learning a language when traveling in Europe, and using it, it’s a lot easier than trying to learn it out of a book.
The minute you’re communicating with someone, they’re look looking your work, and your looking at theirs, then you need to understand what the nature of that language is.
Chuck Close – “Richard” – Portrait of the Sculptor Richard Serra
URBAN-MUSE: What would you say to a young artist, 23 years old who has a lot of work but he’s just trying to get people to see it?
CHUCK CLOSE: I’m not so sure I would be concerned, at 23, and having a lot of people look at it.
I dunno. At 23… (thinking) where the hell was I at 23? I was 24 when I got into Graduate school (Yale)…
I think people try to show much too early.
The minute you start trying to show, and trying to sell, you start altering the work, in order to make it salable, in order to make money.
You’re going to make a lot of bad paintings before you make a good painting.
I’d get a job, I think most people need an occupation to support their profession.
And just paint as much as I could.
Brad Pitt stops by to see Chuck Close’s Daguerrotype Tapestry.
But also, try to be part of a community. If you live where there are other artists around get to know them. Get involved with going to galleries.
The most important education you can get, is seeing art. A young artist should see as much art as he or she can.
And it’s not just seeing stuff you like. You learn just as much by seeing stuff you don’t like.
But it’s like any language, nuance and subtlety comes from understanding the complexity of that language. And that comes from seeing a lot of stuff.
Chuck Close – “Linda”
URBAN-MUSE: There hasn’t been a lot of nudity in your work since like early in the 60’s…
CHUCK CLOSE: I do. I do daguerrotypes (that are nudes).
Chuck Close – “Kate” – Nude Daguerrotype’s of Kate Moss
URBAN-MUSE: What is the fine line between artistic expression and prurient interest (pornography)? This is something I’d like to know.
CHUCK CLOSE: I dunno. I think work can be transgressive. It can be about obscenity, and not necessarily be obscene. And other things that are clean, can be obscene. You know? A lot of stuff… a lot of art that was made as propaganda, to serve the needs of the state, or to serve the needs of a political movement or whatever. That may be clean, but it could be obscene.
And then things can be very very dirty, and very raunchy, and very explicit, and very transgressive, and still be art, and not be obscene at all.
Chuck Close – “Brad” – Portrait of Brad Pitt for W Magazine
URBAN-MUSE: I saw this one, at the MET yesterday, it was just of a woman’s midsection… And it was wide open. But I thought that name was interesting. “The Origin of the World.” (Gustave Courbet)
CHUCK CLOSE: Yeah, thats a very famous painting.
Chuck Close – Justin – Portait of Justin Timberlake for AOL
URBAN-MUSE: As a New Yorker, what were you feelings on the events of September 11th?
CHUCK CLOSE: Well, it was devastating. We were here (New York), I was actually coming downtown and heard up on 86th Street, that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. And we came down the FDR, and when we came down Houston street, it was burning. We came in the studio and were watching it on TV. And then a plane went overhead, and we heard that, and it hit the second one.
We went out on the street, over to Houston street and actually saw one of them come down. And then we came back and watched TV as the other one went down. And then people began to walk up LaFayette street from Wall Street, covered with ash. Just totally covered. They looked like they were carved out of stone, carrying their briefcases. It was really amazing, they’re not going to let go of their goddamn briefcases no matter what. And we, and the neighbors wheeled some water out in the street (for people). Our telephone was working, so people could come in and use it. It was really amazing.
URBAN-MUSE: So it got pretty dusty even all the way down here?
Chuck Close – Self Portrait – Large Format Polaroids
CHUCK CLOSE: Yeah, the dust was mainly down in Tribeca, but the people were covered in ash so they brought it with them. It was amazing.
But I’m proud of my city, my adopted city, I come from the Northwest. Because the city is so resilient, and strong, and tough, and I think people by and large behaved nobly, there were all these people volunteering to go down there and help.
It was… It was devastating.
Chuck Close – “Self Portrait” – Tapestry
We would like to thank Mr. Close, his staff and assistants, Yale University, and Joisan Decker at Pace Wildenstein Gallery in New York City for being so hospitable and kind to us and allowing this interview to take place.
We hope our questions, and the answers, and perspective from this great man will be of some help to artists, and lovers of the art around the world.
To Learn more About Chuck Close we reccomend you buy the book: “Chuck Close – Work” by Christopher Finch.
Make Art. Paint Things. Be Awesome.
Interview by Curt Anderson for Urban-Muse.com – March 24th, 2008.