Arts Desk

Reviewed: Chuck Close, “New Work” at Adamson Gallery

Cecily, Felt Print Stamp

There's not much new to discuss when it comes to Chuck Close's subjects. Mark continues to be Mark. Lucas continues to be Lucas. After 40 years, the portraits of Close's friends and family are no longer strangers to us. We're all old friends, and we know them by their first names.

Never mind most of them are famous—titans of 20th century art. Close has humanized these people and brought them back to Earth. We've even watched them age in his paintings, an unintended consequence of his work. As Close has often said, faces are always interesting, and it's because Close lives with prosopagnosia, more commonly called "face blindness," which prevents him from recognizing even his closest friends. That fact bears responsibility for the only hint of irony in his work.

Felt Stamp detail

Though, Close's art has always been about the process. His latest exhibition at Adamson Gallery presents two that are new to him: watercolor prints and felt hand stamps.

Felt hand-stamp prints produce a field of dots that align in grids along the surface of the paper. Each dot varies in color, and some dots possess smaller concentric dots within them, like miniature Kenneth Nolands. The process, in many respects, defies the tradition of printmaking: There is no matrix as one might find with a wood-block print or an etching. Each dot of color is applied individually—thousands of dots in a single composition. Without a plate, the end result most likely presents slight variations between each print throughout an edition.

His series of watercolor prints present several twists: To create them, Close painted nearly 15,000 watercolor swatches, all in gray scale. Then the swatches were scanned into a computer, and assembled digitally through a custom program. All of the swatches were eventually transferred to cyan, magenta, and yellow values, and the swatches are overlapped in the software to create the assorted values in the final image. Interestingly enough, the final print is actually watercolor on watercolor paper.

Up close, both processes appear abstract. Only at a distance do they come together. They fool the eye twice: From a distance they convince you there is an image, and up close they convince you there is not. Where photographers are alchemists, Close remains a sorcerer.

As with previous "pixelations," like Close's pulp paper and Japanese block prints, the felt stamp and watercolor prints achieve the same mastery of craft, form, and image. Cicely still looks like Cicely, regardless of Close's process. The faces, as they appear in various media, always remain fresh—like seeing them for the first time.

The exhibit is on view to Dec. 29 at Adamson Gallery, 1515 14th St. NW.

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