Chuck Close, artist known for monumental grid portraits, dies at 81

Chuck Close uses a hand brace to hold his paint brush
Chuck Close, 55, using a hand brace to hold his paintbrush, adjusts the brush with his teeth while working in his New York studio in 1996.
(Mark Lennihan / Associated Press)

Chuck Close, a painter, photographer and printmaker best known for his monumental grid portraits and photo-based paintings of family and famous friends, has died. He was 81.

His attorney, John Silberman, said Close died Thursday at a hospital in Oceanside, N.Y. He did not give a cause of death.

Close, whose professional highlights include a solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1973, was known for using a grid structure for the representation of an image in nearly all of his works, which he said helped him break the face down into “incremental units.”

Time-consuming and labor-intensive, his paintings dissected the human face of such luminaries as President Clinton, composer Philip Glass and the artist himself.

His works have been displayed in museums, galleries and even the New York City subway.

In 2017, Close faced accusations of sexual harassment from some women who said he made inappropriate comments when they had gone to his studio to potentially be models for him in previous years.


“I was never more worried about anything in my life than this,” said artist Chuck Close of “Head-On/The Modern Portrait,” an exhibition that he selected from the Museum of Modern Art’s collection.

June 26, 1991

He told the New York Times that he had spoken to the women about their bodies as part of evaluating them as models, and apologized for causing any discomfort.

Close, who had been diagnosed with dementia-related conditions in 2013, also had serious mobility issues after suffering a spinal artery collapse in 1988, requiring him to use a wheelchair.

In Close’s work, the “pixilated” images “are filled with tiny abstract colored shapes, individual brushstrokes or even the artist’s fingerprints. When viewed from a distance, the individual marks miraculously resolve into a surprisingly realistic face,” the Akron Art Museum in Ohio said in describing Close’s paintings and prints for an exhibition titled “Familiar Faces: Chuck Close in Ohio Collections.”

Born in Monroe, Wis., Close graduated from the University of Washington, Seattle, and received a MFA from Yale University.

Both of his marriages ended in divorce, and he is survived by two daughters.