Chuck Close Biography

Chuck Close, an American painter, is renowned for his large-scale, intricate portraits of the human face. His extraordinary artistic abilities and inventive techniques have made him one of the most innovative artists of contemporary times. As a major figure in the Photorealism movement, Close is credited with establishing photorealism as a distinct artistic medium. By blurring the line between photography and painting, he has created magnificent works of art that are highly sought after by museums and collectors. Despite facing severe dyslexia as a child and battling numerous health issues throughout his life, Close’s ambition as a painter remained unwavering.

Quick Facts

  • Also Known As: Charles Thomas
  • Died At Age: 81
  • Family:
    • Spouse/Ex-: Leslie Rose, Sienna Shields
    • Father: Leslie Durward Close
    • Mother: Mildred Wagner Close
  • Born Country: United States
  • Quotes By Chuck Close
  • Artists
  • Died on: August 19, 2021
  • Place of death: Oceanside, New York, U.S.
  • Education: University of Washington, 1964 – Yale University, Yale School of Art
  • Awards: World Press Photo Award for Portraits

Childhood & Early Life

Charles Thomas “Chuck” Close was born on July 5, 1940 in Monroe, Washington. His father, Leslie Durward Close, was a sheet metal worker, while his mother Mildred Wagner was a trained pianist. Despite suffering from severe dyslexia as a child, Close developed a passion for art at an early age and knew he wanted to become an artist.

Close faced numerous challenges during his childhood. His father passed away when he was just 11 years old, and his mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. The family lost their home due to mounting medical bills, and Close himself fell ill with a kidney infection. Despite these hardships, Close remained dedicated to art and was accepted into the University of Washington in Seattle, where he graduated in 1962. He then pursued a Master of Fine Arts at Yale University and received his degree in 1964. He also studied at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna on a Fulbright grant.


After completing his studies, Close returned to the US and became an art teacher at the University of Massachusetts. In 1967, he moved to New York City. Close initially gained recognition for his skillful brushwork and abstract expressionist style. However, he gradually shifted towards “photorealist” painting, which involved meticulous attention to detail and resembled photography.

By the late 1960s, Close’s work was being displayed in important New York galleries and at the Whitney Museum of American Art. He gained prominence and began exhibiting internationally in the early 1970s. Despite suffering from prosopagnosia, a condition that impairs his ability to recognize faces, Close became known for his bold and intricate portraits of the human face. He also created wall-size tapestry portraits composed of thousands of woven colored threads, featuring subjects such as Barack Obama, Lou Reed, Kate Moss, and Philip Glass.

Throughout his career, Close held numerous solo exhibitions and participated in nearly 800 group exhibitions, including prestigious events like documentas and the Venice Biennale. In 2007, a retrospective of his work titled “Chuck Close Paintings: 1968/2006” was held.

Awards & Achievements

Close was elected into the National Academy of Design as an Associate Academician in 1990 and became a full Academician in 1992. He received the National Medal of Arts from President Clinton in 2000 and the New York State Governor’s Art Award. In 2010, he was appointed by President Barack Obama to the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities.

Personal Life, Legacy & Death

Close was married twice. His first marriage was to Leslie Rose, with whom he had two daughters. They divorced in 2011. In 2013, he married artist Sienna Shields, but they later separated.

In 1988, Close experienced a seizure that left him paralyzed from the neck down. Through months of rehabilitation and physical therapy, he regained strength and learned to use a wheelchair. He continued to paint and re-established himself as a beloved artist.

Close was diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia in 2015. He passed away on August 19, 2021, at the age of 81, from congestive heart failure in Oceanside, New York.


  • “Me, Learning, I”


  • Close volunteered in President Barack Obama’s Turnaround Arts initiative, where he mentored students at Roosevelt School in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

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