“I am not trying to make facsimiles of photographs. Neither am I interested in the icon of the head as a total image. I don’t want the viewer to see the whole head at once and assume that that’s the most important aspect of my painting. I am not making Pop personality posters like the ones they sell in the Village. That’s why I choose to do portraits of my friends--individuals that most people will not recognize. I don’t want the viewer to recognize the head of Castro and think he has understood my work.”--Chuck Close, 1970
Big Self-Portrait was the first of Close's series of monumental head-and-shoulder portraits. After taking a picture of his subject, Close makes photographic prints that he uses to transfer the images to canvas. Using a technique devised by Renaissance masters and adapted by contemporary billboard painters, Close overlays a working print with a numbered and lettered grid, and then reproduces the image block by block.
In this format the image becomes a mosaic of black, gray, and white visual information that the artist replicates by spraying a mixture of black acrylic paint and water onto the canvas with an airbrush. Specific features like the illusion of light reflecting off the hairs of his beard were achieved by scratching paint from the surface of the canvas with a razor blade.