Update – Tuesday, Nov. 6: “Chuck Close Face Book” made Publishers Weekly’s Best Books of 2012 for Children’s Nonfiction!
Ascha Drake, a teacher of art at The Bay School, talks about the process of co-authoring “Chuck Close Face Book,” a vivid peek into the work and world of the enormously popular contemporary painter, printmaker and photographer.
Who is Chuck Close?
Chuck Close is a contemporary artist living in New York City. He is confined to a wheelchair and has been since the ’80s. Chuck Close works specifically with portraiture, so capturing members of his community and also of himself. Chuck Close is, I think, a very important artist in the 21st century because he pushes limitations with materials, he makes us see things in different ways and because he is confined to a wheelchair; [it’s important] for students to see he had this crisis and overcame this crisis as somebody who would say he doesn’t regret what happened. He had a blood clot … he was about to go give a speech and he wasn’t feeling well but he pushed through and gave the speech and then took himself to the hospital. He calls it “the event.”He’s this great story of perseverance, which for kids is really important to learn about.
In 2007 I published a book on Joseph Cornell. Joseph Cornell was a surrealist artist who created these imaginary worlds in boxes. I was teaching in a school in Chicago at the time – teaching students about Joseph Cornell – and a parent came up to me and said, “We have to write a book together.” Seven years later we published this book on Joseph Cornell; it took a long time. It was super collaborative, sitting next to each other, creating these pages, scanning them. That was with Joan Summers, and Joan Summers started a company called Glue and Paper with Amanda Freyman. They approached me and said, “Okay, let’s work on another book.”
Behind the Book
I said, “If it’s going to be for kids, it should be kid-generated.” At the time I was working in New York City as a teaching artist. I said, “There’s this great group of fifth-graders, there’s a fellow teaching artist working with the same class. … So on a cold December day they all got on the train in from Brooklyn and came into Manhattan, into SoHo. Chuck Close’s studio is on Bowrey and it’s very discrete – you can’t tell it’s a studio. They came and interviewed him. They came with notebooks; they came with pencils; they came with index cards. And he was extraordinary. Just extraordinary.
I don’t think he had had twelve fifth graders in his studio before. I think as an artist, you’re probably wowed by the power of the young mind. And the questions that they asked him really pushed him to think about things in different ways.