Chuck Close: face book, by Chuck Close


By chance I happened to see this book in the kids’ section at the library.  Since I like Chuck Close’s work and I think he is a good artist to use as an example when approaching several different subjects with kids, I picked it up.  It turns out the book was published just last year, and I think it’s a great reference book for kids.

As you may know, Chuck Close paints pictures of faces.  HUGE pictures of faces.  That’s all he paints (or draws, or photographs, or uses mixed media to create.)  What I didn’t know is that he has prosopagnosia, or “face blindness.” This is just one of the many things that kids will learn about Close in his new book.

The book is basically a question-and-answer session between Close and some kids (imaginary or not, I don’t know) visiting his studio.  There are the typical questions you’d ask an artist, such as  “What made you start to draw?” and “How long does it take you to make a painting?” There are other questions specific to Close’s work and life, such as “Why doesn’t anyone in your art smile?” and “Did you ever want to give up [after the Event]?” (The Event refers to a collapsing artery which caused paralysis from the chest down.)

In the middle of the book, there is a section of mix-and-match self portraits.  There are many portraits he’s done of himself at different stages of life, with different mediums.  I particularly enjoyed the fingerprint portrait.  I wasn’t sure why he chose to do mix-and-match, but I loved it anyway.



There is something really fun about doing mix-and-match with an image of the same person, painted at different ages and with different media.  It was a bit more fascinating than making a bear-giraffe-cow.

Close’s personality and working style and sense of dogged determination and hard work come across in the book.  Some of my favorite quotes were:

  • “Sometimes I choose colors that get me in trouble–perhaps they are too loud or clash with the other colors.  Then I have to use my intuition to paint my way out.”
  • “Inspiration is for amateurs.  Artists just show up and get to work.”
  • “The discipline and determination I learned as a kid overcoming dyslexia helped me through ‘the Event.'”
  • “Ease is the enemy of the artist.  Go ahead and get yourself into trouble.”

At the end of the book, there is also a timeline of Close’s life.  I think this section would be useful for an older elementary student who was assigned to do a research project on an artist.

For kids who aren’t doing research projects, Close’s life is just a great example of someone who has overcome huge obstacles, from severe dyslexia to prosopagnosia, to paralysis.  If ever there is a kid suffering from the “I can’t” syndrome, this is a book for them.