I was a teacher in Amherst, Massachusetts from 1965 to early 1967. Keith Hollingworth also taught; he was a ceramics teacher there. We both came to New York about the same time and lived in SoHo and spent a lot of time together. I was doing portraits and Keith was doing sculpture. I tried to paint anonymous people, unlike Warhol who was doing portraits of celebrities, only my subjects turned out to be famous later on, like Richard Serra. Philip Glass, who was one of my subjects, once said, "I am to you like haystacks are to Monet." Keith turned out to be my last black and white portrait, which I held onto for a while and then reluctantly sold to [the art museum in] St. Louis.
1 Amy Blomme, Interview with Chuck Close (2006), in the files of the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts.
Maybe I make it sound like the subject matter is totally unimportant to me. That's actually not true. I go to a great deal of trouble to get the specific kind of photograph that is going to have the kind of information that's interesting to me: texture, elaborate depth of field—and the distance I shoot them from is important…I'm not concerned with painting people or with making humanist paintings.1
1 Linda Chase and Ted McBurnett, "The Photo Realists: 12 Interviews," Art in America 60, no. 6 (November-December 1972): 76-77.
Leslie: I think our immediate circle was Chuck's friends from graduate school at Yale. I was this little kid, I was in over my head…I was a graduate student, and the people around me were Richard Serra and Brice Marden and Nancy Graves, and we spent all of this time together at Max's and all these bars, and they were overwhelming.
Chuck: They still are.
Leslie: They were the most combative, competitive group of young artists and art talkers and I was completely intimidated by all of them. I was eight years younger than most of them. Kent Floeter was part of that group. Who else was around the table all the time? I remember Brice and Richard, and I remember Phil Glass, who was always very modest. He was not one of the combative art stars.
Chuck: We spent a lot of time with Keith Hollingworth.1
1 Chuck Close, Conversation with Leslie Close (13 December 1996), The Portraits Speak: Chuck Close in Conversation with 27 of his Subjects (New York: A.R.T. Press, 1997), pp. 163-164.
The paintings looked [more] like the people than the photographs did. No matter what degree of likeness existed in the photograph, I always ended up putting more into the painting. Unconsciously. I was trying not to. I was trying to just be very flat-footed, and effect this translation, and not editorialize and not crank anything up for effect. But unconsciously I couldn't help but do it.1
1 Chuck Close, "Dialogue: Arnold Glimcher with Chuck Close," Chuck Close: Recent Work (New York: The Pace Gallery, 1986), n.p.
Keith is based on Keith Hollingworth (b. 1937), a sculptor Close became friends with while they were both teachers at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. In the years since Close finished the painting, he has radically revised his view of all his early portraits, saying that they are not as faithful to the photographs he based them on as he first claimed. Hollingworth's relationship to the painting has also evolved considerably.
Chuck and I had been friends for some time when he approached me and asked if I would be one of his "mug shots," as he then called them. A series of shots was taken by my brother Wayne, who worked as a professional photographer at the time. Chuck was amazed about the images being so consistent. The explanation is simple: as I have a facial paralysis, I preferred to just hold my face and avoid the risk of showing an asymmetrical expression. That was the sitting. Then, a grid system was applied to a 16 x 18 inch photograph to blow the image up. It was hard for me to look at the finished work. But this was mainly because of my facial paralysis, as I hadn't come to terms with it. In the long run, it was also difficult to understand that "Keith" and I had become two completely separate entities.
When the painting was finished, Chuck had a show at the Bykert Gallery and asked if I would help him hang it. It felt odd to have the art handlers speak of moving "Keith" around as they worked to organize the show. Henry Geldzahler,the legendary curator of contemporary art at the Metropolitan Museum, came by. Although I attempted to stand a little taller so that he would make a connection between me and the painting, neither he nor anyone else noticed the relationship.
In 1998, I took my family to see the [Chuck Close] retrospective at MoMA. My sons quickly stepped out of the first room where my portrait was. I think they couldn't bear to see me so oversized. They also had to go through another room with even more versions of the portrait, all of them of respectable sizes, too: a Mezzotint and a series of drawings. One of my sons remarked that I looked so angry. Actually, he was right: I was quite angry at that time in my life.
In the beginning, the painting, and later the mezzotint and other images, made me uncomfortable because of my poor self-image. As the years have passed, however, I am able to talk about the portrait without feeling at odds with myself. I have to continually remind people that the painting is famous, and I am simply the subject.1
1 Matthias Waschek, Interview with Keith Hollingworth (2006), in the files of the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts.