There is a whole history of self-portraiture especially since the 1600s, just think Rembrandt’s series of self-portraits. Of course, some photographers did make self-portraits however, I think the award for first “selfie” in modern art goes to Chuck Close and it is an airbrush painting that is about a half a century old. It’s probably the one that any one studying art history should know.
It’s a pretty unflattering photobooth style image that is almost a queasy and uncomfortable close up shot that describes the artist so unflatteringly that it holds your attention even as it grosses you out. I guess you could say that it holds are attention because it’s so repulsive. It also is cool because it gave the Close interesting details, textures, and shading that also make it interesting to paint and also show off the skill of the artist.
Instagram filters or “air brushes” out all the interesting details as soon as you run your selfie through a filter. It evens out the tones, enhances the color and gets rid of things like pores in your nose etc. Snapchat’s doing the same thing. But in a way those sanitized photos are not interesting to look at from an artsy perspective. Airbrushing skin tones was one of the ways that Playboy magazine enhanced and filtered the elements in how women were perceived, however, it is also a great tool to paint in a photorealistic style. It allows for smooth tonal transitions. It’s easiest to paint with an airbrush on a very large scale and that is probably one of the reasons why Close’s painting is so big. The fact that it was actually paint allowed him to scratch into the paint surface with a razor blade to scratch out sharp white hairs and possibly some highlights.
Check out this link to see a super big close up:
Everyone I know is blown away by the realism of the painting, however, it’s not that hard to do, think of billboard paintings from the 50’s to 70’s. Close like these painters used, and still uses a grid to use a technique called “grid and transfer” or “squaring up.” You might have even done this yourself in high school art class in which you put a grid over a magazine photo and used it to blow up and draw the photo.
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