Chuck Close is known as much for his detailed representation of the human face as he is for his subsequent deconstruction of it. Close uses head-on portraits as his templates, exploring portraiture and his subjects through a variety of drawing and painterly techniques, as well as through printmaking, tapestry and photography. John (1971–72) one of Close’s earliest paintings, is described as photo-realist. Indeed, Close refers to photographs to create his artworks, employing their inconsistencies perspective as much as their verisimilitude.
Here, the sharp detail of the rim of the subject’s glasses contrasts with the blurred soft focus of his shoulders and the back of his hair, as it likely did in the original photograph. But instead of using mechanical means to transfer his images onto canvas, Close works entirely from sight to achieve the intensely animate detail, sectioning off the reference photographs into grids and transferring each piece by hand onto is monumental canvases,
For more than sixty years, Alex Katz has created paintings distinguished by their bold colors, sharp outlines, and subjects taken from his daily life. By simplifying facial features and using flat, unmixed colors in works such as Edwin, Blue Series (1965), Katz emphasizes the form of the painting above its content. Here, he has cropped the left side of the body, asserting the figure as a subject of abstraction. The painting depicts Edwin Denby, a modernist poet and dance critic as well as a close friend of artists including Katz, Willem de Kooning, Arshile Gorky, and Franz Kline. Katz credits Denby for his appreciation of abstraction. Refusing to reveal his subjects’ personalities or interior life, Katz’s paintings focus instead on technique and visual invention.
Known for his meticulous dress and unusual goatee, French art critic Félix Fénéon gained a reputation as a dandy among his peers. In this painting, whose full title is Opus 217. Against the Enamel of a background Rhythmic with Beats and Angles, Tones and Tinits, Portrait of M Félix Fénéon in 1890, Paul Signac set the critic’s static profile against a swirling background– a kaleidoscopic reference to optical theorist Charles Henry’s recently published color wheel. The wordy title is a spoof on the exceedingly long titles that Henry and his fellow scientists gave to their studies. Though Fénéon professed to dislike it, he kept the portrait for the rest of his life.
In the 1980’s, Andy Warhol befriended several young artists of notoriety, including Keith Haring, with whom he also collaborated. Celebrated for his public and socially conscious art, Haring is pictured here with his then-boyfriend, DJ Juan Dubose. This portrait (1983) is rare, within Warhol’s oeuvre and in the visual culture of its time, in its depiction of intimacy between an interracial same-sex couple.
Photographed, Against a Wallpaper Comprised of Warhol’s Silkscreened Celebrity Portraits, in The Jewish Museum in Upper Manhattan
This compelling portrait of a Baltimore toddler picking berries from a surreally-scaled goblet is an icon of the American vernacular painting. Joshua Johnson, who was self taught, is the earliest known African American painter to make his living from his art. Emma Van Name (1805) is his most ambitious and engaging portrait of an individual child. Revealing the hallmarks of Johnson’s characteristic style in its naturalistic precision and imaginative flair, the painting is distinguished by a bravura demonstration of his talents in its nuanced palette, compositional complexity, and deft handling of details, especially in the child’s dress and demeanor.
Photographed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC.
Modjesko was a popular drag performer in Paris in the early years of the twentieth century. Art critic, Félix Fénéon, included this portrait in several exhibitions at Galerie Bernheim-Jeune, including the group show Portraits of Men. In 1909, he signed artist Kees van Dongen to a seven-year contract. Both anarchists, van Dongen and Fénéon shared a desire to advocate for the rights of socially marginalized people.
Modjesko, Soprano Singer (1908) was Photographed in the Museum of Modern Art in NYC.
John I. H. Bauer, head of the Brooklyn Museum‘s Department of painting and sculpture from 1936 to 1952, here appears seated in an interior space, perhaps his office. His body, cropped at the head and ankle, fills the frame. Painted in 1974, Alice Neel captured idiosyncrasies such as his slightly rumpled suit, wrinkled face, and veiny hands. One of her guiding principles as a portraitist was, in her words, that “every person is a new universe unique with its own laws.“