Akron's Mona Lisa
The ambiguous expression in her eyes gives you a bizarre urge to stare her down, hoping to catch her attention or shift her glance your way—just to solve the mystery of what’s on her mind.
Every detail of her complexion has been laid bare for all of us to judge. Still, we love her. She’s one of us; she’s ours. And this fall, Chuck Close’s strikingly realistic, larger-than-life painting, “Linda,” has been sharing her permanent home at the Akron Art Museum with a star-studded gallery of friends.
Bill Clinton and the Dalai Lama are there. Close, his wife, Leslie, and daughter Georgia are there. Other family members and friends are there, too—a few dozen in all.
Called “Familiar Faces,” the Close exhibit includes pieces from public museums and private collections around Ohio. There are paintings, drawings, wide-ranging prints, photographs and works created from torn paper, fingerprints, even tapestry.
Then and now
Linda Rosenkrantz remembers when her friend Chuck Close asked if he could use her as the subject of a painting. It was the early 1970s and she had just gotten a frizzy perm. He wanted the challenge of painting her curls, experimenting with painting three layers—red, yellow and blue—to mimic the way process inks were used in printing.
Close took five photographs of Rosenkrantz and chose one to use as the reference art for his work. “If he had chosen a different one, it would have been a completely different painting,” she says.
It took Close 14 months to finish the painting of Linda. The curls did indeed present a number of unique challenges to complete.
Because Rosenkrantz and her husband, Christopher Finch, moved from New York to California shortly after Close started the painting, she didn’t really watch as the work took shape. When she went to see the finished painting on display in Philadelphia, she remembers feeling a little overwhelmed. “It’s frightening to see a 9-foot face,” she laughs, “much less your own.”
Rosenkrantz hated the redness of the skin and the words like “ravines” and “craters” that art reviewers used to describe the lines and wrinkles on her face. But her 2 1/2 -year-old daughter’s reaction to the painting that day was a positive one. The moment she spotted it, she ran across the gallery to the wall where it was hanging and kissed it.
While many of Close’s subjects drastically changed their appearances after seeing their images magnified in his work, “this (painting) became my image of myself,” Rosenkrantz says. Whenever she visited New York, people would ask, “Aren’t you a Chuck Close?” She has worn her hair in the same style ever since.
These days, seeing her image frozen in time at age 39, looks pretty good to Rosenkrantz. And these days she looks at the work more objectively. “I see it now as a wonderful work of art,” she says. Close’s “Linda” is one of only seven color portraits done in this style.
All about the work
Close doesn’t take lightly the gift so many of his friends and family members give him when they agree to be a subject in one of his works. “Everybody’s vain,” he acknowledges. “When someone loans me their image, it’s a really generous act.”
Full of contradictions, Close describes himself as “a nervous wreck” and “a slob with a short attention span.” Focusing on labor-intensive pieces, methodically, one section at a time, gives him a Zenlike calm, he says.
Since the early days, he has made deliberate choices at every stage of his career to push himself and his art.
“Inspiration is for amateurs,” Close says. “For the rest of us, everything grows out of work. If you wait for inspiration, you’ll never get a damn thing done.”
The Chuck Close exhibit continues at the Akron Art Museum through Jan. 3. Stop by to marvel at the power of Close’s technique, experimentation
and vision... or just to let your mind wander as you peer into the eyes of so many solitary souls. Somehow in looking at them, you’ll see yourself—your larger-than-life longings, demons and dreams.