The mammoth heads that have been the exclusive subject of Chuck Close's paintings and prints since the 1960s have redefined portraiture during the second half of the twentieth century. Close's subjects are his family, his friends, himself, and fellow artists, whose faces are shown close-up and rendered through his distinct, meticulous marks. The artist begins by taking black-and-white or color Polaroid photographs of his subjects, which are carefully covered with a grid pattern that allows him to transfer the image to paper or canvas of monumental size. Close then builds his images by applying one careful stroke after another in multi-colors or gray scale. This has been Close's working method since he graduated from the Yale School of Art and began working in an exacting photorealist manner that was also informed by minimalism, conceptual art, and other movements of the 1960s. His more recent works are generally larger than life and highly focused, with the faces appearing as if behind glass or hovering on the edge of abstraction. For Close it is the process of description that renders meaning, rather than the subject itself.
The subject of this iconic, full-face portrait is Close himself. When seen at close range, the self-portrait dissolves into a buoyant sea of mosaic-like color blobs, resembling anything from teardrops and doughnuts to the pixels that make up digital imagery. Occasionally these shapes break out of their designated grids, which are arranged diagonally in a diamond-patterned network, leading to further dissolution of the image. However, when the viewer slowly backs away from the print, the glimmering surface coalesces into a cohesive image of the artist's famous visage. This is one of Chuck Close's most memorable and satisfying self-portraits and the first in which he is shown smiling.