Museum Paper

The piece I have chosen is an oil painting by Chuck Close entitled Robert, made in 1997. I observed it at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA). The painting, which measures an enormous 102 by 84 inches, is a straightforward portrait of one of Close's friends and fellow (pop) artists Robert Rauschenberg, although its dazzling style and ingenious execution are anything but straightforward.
The subject matter is typical of Chuck Close: a large, frontal view of a person's head. The technique of the piece reflects Close's later style, where the painting is divided into a diagonal grid in which each square contains an assortment of painted geometric shapes, ranging widely in colors, many of which, curiously enough, are not even normally found on the human face (green, violet, blue, etc.). However, when observed from a distance, the many separate squares and the varying shapes and colors within them seem to merge together to form a complete, convincing human face. The individual conflicting colors disappear and, oddly enough, the familiar pigments and features of the human face are readily visible. Like most of his portraits, Chuck Close shows his subject from a close, disorienting vantagepoint. Robert Rauschenberg's grinning face fills up nearly the entire space of the canvas, leaving only the corners open to a black background.
The face in Robert was not painted in the typical way most artist would paint a face – that is, namely, by painting specific details like the shape of the head, the eyes, the nose, mouth, etc. Instead, the canvas was divided into thousands of squares, each mere inches across. Close paints a background color for each square from top to bottom, ranging from deep reds and blues to light yellows and greens. He then starts again at the top, painting in each square an array of loose shapes like squares, circles, diamonds, lozenges, etc., in the same range of vivid colors. When the l…


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