In art galleries on the shoreline, the month of November is all about Chuck Close. The Bruce Museum in Greenwich has a top-notch exhibit on the walls now of work by the unconventional portraitist. The Housatonic Museum of Art in Bridgeport has one coming on Thursday, Nov. 7. And the Westport Arts Center has one coming on Friday, Nov. 22.
The name of the exhibit at the Bruce, "Closer," is perfect. The best way to appreciate Close's work is to stand far away from it and then walk closer.
From a distance, Close's large-format works are clearly portraits. As you move closer, the geometric patterns that make up the portraits pop out more. In extreme close-up, the face of the portrait-sitter can't be seen, only the assortment of small shapes and colors that Close assembled into an image of a face.
The show features mezzotints, lithographs, woodcuts, etchings, aquatints, linocuts and silkscreens from 1972 to the present, as well as works he created using handmade paper. He often arranges his geometric hodgepodges on a grid, in squares, circles, diamonds and, in his portrait of Lucas Samaras, radiating lines. The wall text tells how Close created each work.
One of the centerpieces in the show is a huge Jacquard tapestry of Close's face. "It's the ultimate grid, just horizontal and vertical threads," Close once said. "I always thought tapestry was right up my alley."
Helen Klisser During, director of visual arts at Westport Arts Center, wanted to focus on Close the man. So she calls the center's show, which will feature about 30 portraits, "About Face."
"The story of Chuck Close and adversity is that he did a complete about face. He is able to make it into something else and turn it around," Klisser During said. She refers to Close's father's death at age 11; Close's spinal collapse in 1988; and his inability to memorize faces.
"A lot has been written about his need to print [faces], draw them, document them so that he gets to know those faces. Instead of focusing on technique I want to swing toward why he's painting these faces," she said.
Robert Ellson, who sat for a portrait with Close in the early 70s, lives in Westport. Klisser During said he will loan the center his portrait, and prominent collectors Joel and Sherry Mallin also will loan works.
A third side of the artist — Close as an educator — is showcased at Housatonic. As a member of President Obama's Committee on the Arts and Humanities, Close focused on grade-school kids in a "Turnaround Arts" program aimed at underachieving schools. Close chose Roosevelt School in Bridgeport.
Tania Kelley, principal of Roosevelt School, said 36 kids were chosen to participate. In a program that started in September 2012, Close visited them in the classroom, videotaped messages, did a webinar and took them to Yale University Art Gallery and his studio.
"It gave them a whole new perspective on art itself. Art isn't just putting a crayon to paper," Kelley said. "Nothing about art is wrong. ... It has strengthened their observational skills and have given them a deeper appreciation of art and the artist."
The Housatonic exhibit will feature 50 works by the students and five works by Close. Close and the kids are expected at the opening reception.
Kelley said that the kids have benefited from Close's mentoring in ways that go beyond art. "Our attendance is up with those particular students. Their whole attitude about who they are has changed," she said. "Our kids are beginning to see that they are not products of where they live, but that they can learn to do whatever they want to do. "
CLOSER: THE GRAPHIC ART OF CHUCK CLOSE is at Bruce Museum, One Museum Drive in Greenwich, until Sunday, Jan. 26. Hours and prices: www.brucemuseum.org.
CHUCK CLOSE: ABOUT FACE is at Westport Arts Center, 51 Riverside Ave., from Friday, Nov. 22 (opening reception 6 to 8 p.m.), until Sunday, Jan. 12. Free. Hours: www.westportartscenter.org.
CHUCK CLOSE AND HIS TURNAROUND ARTS KIDS will be at Housatonic Museum of Art, 900 Lafayette Blvd., at Housatonic Community College in Bridgeport, from Thursday, Nov. 7 (opening reception 7:30 to 8:30 p.m.), until Sunday, Dec. 15. Free. Hours: www.housatonicmuseum.org.