Layers of Leslie
There are only two weeks left to experience the special exhibition Chuck Close and Crown Point Press: Prints and Processes on view at the de Young. The tight focus of this exhibition allows visitors to zero in on the processes behind Chuck Close’s photorealist technique as it appears in the print format. In this, the third and final installment of our blog series highlighting each of the nuanced portraits on display, we feature Leslie.
For Crown Point’s 20th birthday in 1982, the press expanded its program to include woodcuts made in the traditional Japanese ukiyo-e manner. To create Leslie, Close worked with a team of specially trained craftsmen in Kyoto, Japan, to craft a complex, 51-block print. The transparent nature of the thin, water-based inks required multiple printings to achieve the richly saturated colors that Close desired, and he was able to attain a myriad of colors by overlapping layers of 10 printed colors upon the page.
Close’s handling of his subject in this woodcut is looser than in previous works, in part because colorful dots (rather than a fixed grid) define each segment of the composition. The subject of this print is Leslie Rose Close, the artist’s wife at the time.
During the late 1960s, Leslie and Close were part of a close-knit circle of artists all working in and around Yale. Eight years Close’s junior, Leslie recalls the intimidating nature of their friends, many of whom are now household art world names:
I was this little kid, I was in over my head… I was a graduate student, and the people around me were Richard Serra and Brice Marden and Nancy Graves, and we spent all of this time together at Max's and all these bars, and they were overwhelming… They were the most combative, competitive group of young artists and art talkers and I was completely intimidated by all of them. I was eight years younger than most of them. Kent Floeter was part of that group. Who else was around the table all the time? I remember Brice and Richard, and I remember Phil Glass, who was always very modest. He was not one of the combative art stars.
Until the artist’s 1986 visit to Japan with Crown Point Press founder Kathan Brown, Chuck Close was accustomed to controlling each mark made in the process of creating his artwork. “I like to make every decision, carve everything, draw every line.” However, in the ukiyo-e form of woodblock printing individual wooden blocks are carved by a professional woodcutter, one block for each color used in a design supplied by an artist. Carving specialist Shunzo Matsuda carved 51 blocks of linden wood, which were then printed by professional printer Tadashi Toda to create the image of Leslie.
Working with these highly trained Japanese printers challenged Close to delegate some of the responsibilities for separating the image out onto his trademark grid, a task Close usually did alone. Of this experience, Close recounts, “I was shocked to see when I got there that it had become [the master printer’s] piece. Then I had to wrest it away and make it mine again… I needed to be positive about any correction I wanted to make. I found it strange yet interesting to let someone interpret the work, to make decisions about color and separations. I realized we had to work together to get a good print.”
Examine the many layers of Leslie in Chuck Close and Crown Point Press: Prints and Processes, closing October 14.