Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Terrie Sultan, Chuck Close Prints: Process and Collaboration

I attended Terrie Sultan's talk about the exhibition of Chuck Close prints at the PAM. Sultan organized the exhibit, which will be in ten cities. Her presentation and the exhibit are both heavy on Close's process and his collaboration with printers. Sultan emphasized the fact that Close considers his work minimalism, and does not identify with representational or figurative artists. A portraitist he's not.

I see him as sort of a human digitizer, since no matter what medium he works in he almost always manually rasterizes images. But Close's process is a complex mix of digital and analogue. Sultan repeatedly used the word, integer, to describe the smallest unit component of each image. When Close communicates to his printers he gives each unit an integer. Depending on the process each unit may be unique and exactly repeatable, or each unit may be communicated as an integer, but rendered by a continuously variable, analogue process. Sometimes it gets complicated, mixing the analogue with the digital. For example, Close directs the production of hand-made pulp paper prints. The pulp is colored to create a gray scale, so each unit identified by the same integer is the same color if not the same exact shape. In contrast, sometimes Close directs the production of prints made up of units that are themselves small, irregular, concentric, circular or elliptical marks inside of squares. There are a finite number of colors associated with each mark, but an infinite or continuously variable number of ways to make the marks within each unit square. The spitbite prints are another example in which units are given an integer representing the number of seconds to allow an area to etch. But the actual rendering of each unit may be analogue since using a stop watch to direct a printer when to stop etching makes each unit unique, and infinitely varied.

My estimation of Close was increased substantially by the show and Sultan's talk. I admire Close because he is so persistently concrete. We can describe his intentions without resorting to superficial art jargon.

I admire him because he seems to work so well with his collaborators. He achieves more by cooperating completely with the printmakers, and they with him.

I don't always like his product. Some of the pieces produced in fabric and hand-made paper seem more craft than art to me. But even then I admire the fact that Close is so willing to attempt the innovation.

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