Chuck Close died at a hospital in Oceanside, New York on Thursday, August 19th, of cardiopulmonary failure. He was 81.

The large portraits that Close created during the late 1960s of himself and his fellow artists, garnered him much acclaim at a time when Abstract Expressionism and Pop art were the popular movements of the time and portraiture had been an almost forgotten art.

What made the works of Close so extraordinary was that he had a condition called prosopagnosia, or face-blindness, which left him incapable of recognizing faces, including his own. At the 2015 World Science Festival, hosted by Radiolab’s Robert Krulwich, Close discussed the condition with neurologist Dr. Oliver Sacks, who also had face-blindness. The episode, Strangers in the Mirror, sheds light on the reason that Close was so interested in painting faces in the large, grid style that he perfected over his long career.

Close was born in Monroe, Washington in 1940. He struggled with dyslexia in school, yet still managed to complete his MFA from Yale in 1964.

In 1988, Close was paralyzed from the neck down from a spinal artery collapse. After a long period of rehabilitation, he began to paint again, using paint brushes strapped to his wrist and with the help of studio assistants.

In 2006, he painted a portrait of former President Bill Clinton, who had awarded him a National Medal of Arts in 2000.

Close was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2013, and dementia in 2015.

In 2017, his career was marred when several women who had posed for portraits in his studio accused him of inappropriate behavior. Close apologized, but a 2018 show at the National Gallery of Art in Washington was cancelled. Close’s doctor told The New York Times that his behavior could have been a result of his dementia. “[Close] was very disinhibited and did inappropriate things,” he said, “which were part of his underlying medical condition. Frontotemporal dementia affects executive function. It’s like a patient having a lobotomy – it destroys that part of the brain that governs behaviour and inhibits base instincts.”

Close is survived by his daughters, Georgia and Maggie, and four grandchildren.

His work is part of the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. and many other major museums around the world.

Please contact us if you would like more information about the work of Chuck Close available at VFA.

Ken Johnson and Robin Pogrebin. Chuck Close, Artist of Outsized Reality, Dies at 81. The New York Times. August 19, 2021. The Guardian. August 20, 2021.
Tim Jonze. Chuck Close, painter of outsized photorealist portraits, dies aged 81. The
Adrian Searle. In your face: how Chuck Close built images and tore them apart. The Guardian. August 20, 2021.