Stand before one of Chuck Close’s giant painted portraits—works of striking photorealism composed of tiny squares of swirling psychedelic color—and you’ll feel the natural urge to back off. The bracing strategy of Chuck Close is to do the exact opposite. Moving in on the canvas and Close’s paramecium blobs, you suddenly see the missing link between figuration and Abstract Expression: a “continent of art,” says awed painter Dorothea Rockburne. This documentary trains you to deconstruct and rebuild. A trip to Close’s vegetable garden yields not ripe tomatoes, but splotches of red and green swaying in the breeze.
Close was as near to an art star as the 1970s produced. As Marion Cajori’s doc makes clear, in refreshingly intellectual terms, these were days in which lone wolves found themselves more devoted to process than profile: “Painting is about looking, music is about listening,” says Philip Glass, the artist’s subject and friend. While Nina Simone blasts in Close’s cavernous studio, he completes square after square, a strangely absorbing spectacle. His handicap—a stroke partially paralyzed him in 1988—is not the subject here, thank goodness. If any flaw exists, it’s a timidity to confront Close with the accusation of mechanical showiness that’s hounded him for years. Still, if you’re even remotely interested in the art world, this is a must-see.