Renowned artist Chuck Close takes in his works during a 2016 exhibit at the Schack Art Center in Everett. (Dan Bates / Herald file)

Renowned artist Chuck Close takes in his works during a 2016 exhibit at the Schack Art Center in Everett. (Dan Bates / Herald file)

Famed painter Chuck Close, whose roots were here, dies at 81

Born in Monroe and schooled in Everett, he was back home in 2016 for a Schack Art Center exhibition.

EVERETT — Chuck Close, an internationally known painter and photographer with roots in Snohomish County, died Thursday in New York, where he spent most of his life.

His death at a hospital in Oceanside, New York, was announced by his lawyer, John Silberman, according to The New York Times. He was 81.

His huge portraits incorporating grids and intricate patterns to form realistic paintings earned him world renown. In 2016, he came home to Everett for the opening of a four-month exhibition, “Chuck Close: Prints, Process, and Collaboration,” at the Schack Art Center. The touring print show was previously displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Born in Monroe on July 4, 1940, to Mildred and Leslie Durward Close, Charles “Chuck” Close was a 1958 Everett High School graduate whose father died when he was 11.

In a 1987 oral history interview for the Smithsonian Archives of American Art, Close described Monroe as “a smelly little town halfway up the Cascade mountains” and said “I was born at home — not in a hospital — of humble beginnings.”

He graduated in 1960 from Everett Community College, where he was mentored by Russell Day, a legendary art teacher at the school. Despite learning disabilities as a younger student, Close earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of Washington and a master of fine arts from Yale University.

He had used a wheelchair since 1988, when a collapsed spinal artery left him with severe paralysis. Despite his physical struggles, he worked to regain use of his arms and continued to paint, producing work that was sought after by collectors and museums worldwide.

In a letter to Judy Tuohy, executive director of the Schack Art Center, Close shared what the exhibit here meant to him:

“This is the first time I have had a major exhibition of my work in Snohomish County or Everett,” he wrote. “I feel honored, and it’s great for people who knew me when to see what I am doing now. It is particularly gratifying to know that my work will be shown where I grew up.”

Close faced allegations of sexual misconduct in 2018 that resulted in the cancellation of an exhibit of his works at the National Gallery of Art. He denied charges that he had sexually harassed women who had gone to his studio to pose for him, and he apologized for making anyone uncomfortable, according to The New York Times.

“William Jefferson Clinton” by Chuck Close, oil on canvas, 2006. (Astrid Riecken for The Washington Post)

“William Jefferson Clinton” by Chuck Close, oil on canvas, 2006. (Astrid Riecken for The Washington Post)

The Times reported that Close had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2013, and that two years later the diagnosis was amended to another type of dementia.

In the late 1960s, Close began creating huge photorealist-style paintings based on “mug-shot-like photographs of himself and his friends,” according to The New York Times. A self-portrait showing him in black-rimmed glasses and smoking a cigarette is among his best-known works.

“He’s a world figure,” Russell Day said of Close in 2008. That was the year EvCC renamed its display space the Russell Day Gallery. Day, who retired from EvCC in 1976, was 106 when he died in 2019.

Their admiration had been mutual. In an EvCC exhibit catalogue, “Russell Day: Catalyst,” Close credited his former teacher for his achievements: “In the 1950s, I attended Everett’s South Junior High School and Everett High School, where I struggled with severe learning disabilities. I was advised that I would never be able to succeed in college,” said Close, writing that he owed “everything I have accomplished” to Day and his wife, Marjorie Day.

In 2000, President Bill Clinton awarded Close the National Medal of Arts.

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