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A Close-er Look at Charlotte

by Christina Ritchie Rogers

May 4,2005

I recently gazed into the eyes of a genius. The Mint Museum currently is showing the work of Chuck Close, an artist whose process is ground-breaking. Standing in front of his self-portrait, it’s nearly impossible to comprehend the time and precision required to create such a piece. 

Close etched the same face on a series of twelve plates. Each plate was printed in a different color, and each color highlighted the face in a different way. Individually, the images seem empty; layered on top of one another, the result is remarkable. In this exhibit, the twelve colored prints are displayed, as well as the final coordinated portrait. This parallel display emphasizes the complexity of the final image. 

Some of the other prints in the exhibit have a noticeably unique texture. The process Close invented (yes, invented) to create these pieces is as unique as their appearance. He developed the images by dropping pulp of varying shades of gray into specific squares of a brass grid. When pressed and dry, the hand-made paper contains a wonderfully bumpy and delightfully accurate portrait. Also displayed are woodblock prints. These faces are a collection of unique, abstract, squares related on a grid which somehow unite to form a recognizable human being. Close originally painted the abstract squares, but then worked with a Japanese printmaker to learn the technique that created the pieces in the exhibit. To estimate the amount of time spent on a given piece in hours is futile. 

That being said, the average person spends approximately eight seconds looking at a piece of art in a museum. Strolling by at a distance of three feet, a Chuck close woodblock print is a seemingly chaotic, yet clearly deliberate arrangement of sectioned color, appealing most, I would guess, to babies and people who happen to be high. From ten feet, it is a face, perhaps inciting an “Ahhh, hmm…interesting…” From the next room, however, the same piece is transformed into a photo-real image of a man. And, upon further examination into the art and the artist, one may finally begin to gain an idea of just how deepthe image is. Eight seconds is just not enough.

At first glance, Charlotte is a “walk-by” painting. In the first eight seconds, you only notice the headlines and catch-phrases. It is a young city. It is a green, banking, trading, growing, success-driven workaholic. There, we’ve labeled it, let’s move on. Eight seconds into Uptown, I drive past countless young business people headed to work in suits. Eight seconds is the length of a trader’s Christmas Vacation. Eight seconds is the longest stretch of time one can drive on the interstate without stopping during rush hour. And in eight seconds you can scan the buildings of Charlotte’s skyline. But stop!  Look back from the next room. Get up close and compare. Charlotte’s canvas is deeper than business and banks. Its oranges and reds are more than stoplights and construction barriers. Finances, faith and forward-thinking tint the portrait of our city. Our school system casts a brilliant hue. And what about the blues? Brilliant shades of turquoise, navy, sky – and yes, Carolina -- can be found all over this place, if you know where to look. Friday, I found mine in a portrait at the Mint Museum. 

Take the time to examine the abstract squares of Charlotte’s grid more closely (or, perhaps, to step back fifty feet). Enhancing the mosaic is a vibrant and enriching art scene. The museums and theaters welcome a diverse collection of shows annually. Most importantly, the art in Charlotte is accessible. Gallery crawls, open-air performances, and several events in-doors are free. Tickets, when required, are not hard to find and are affordable. The venues are centrally located, and parking is not a logistical nightmare. Take advantage! I wasn’t transferred here for business. I don’t have kids in the school system. I don’t even like country music. There’s something here for everyone to get excited about. For me, it’s the arts. Go see Chuck Close’s work. Appreciate the layers of Close’s art displayed within the layers of Charlotte. Explore the genius of this town that is bringing the nation here.

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