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Chuck Close Tapestries - 30th June to 30th September 2017

Art exhibition at St Cuthbert's Chapel, Ushaw


Chuck Close Tapestries is the first exhibition of contemporary art to be displayed in the ornately designed St Cuthbert’s Chapel at Ushaw. The dramatic juxtaposition of the monumental, monochrome portraits against the richly coloured, high Gothic architecture is intended to encourage visitors to look at the space in a different way, reflecting on the changing history of Ushaw. Encompassing a vast estate, the magnificent chapels, rich collections and fascinating buildings were largely unknown to a wider public outside the training men of the priesthood. A new era sees Ushaw emerging as a cultural and heritage site, continuing its commitment to education and spirituality and its unique buildings and chapels are now open freely for everyone to discover and enjoy.

Chuck Close is one of America’s most revered and recognisable artists. For almost fifty years he has been creating photorealist portraits based on polaroid images from which he creates a grid system to map details of a face. The closely cropped, generally head-on frontal images focus on a small group of people, largely friends and family. Whilst photography is usually the starting point for his work, Close has worked across a variety of media spanning printmaking, collage, painting and tapestries.

Chuck Close began working with the Magnolia Tapestry Project in 2005 to create limited edition woven textiles. Close selected images for the tapestries from a series of daguerreotypes created in the mid 1990s. The silver-coated photographic plates were then scanned at high resolution and subsequently translated into digital files suitable for weaving. This innovative technology, created by Don Farnsworth of Magnolia Editions, enables an electronic Jacquard loom to weave a complex, mosaic-like network of colour combinations. Test strips are woven at the factory and the digital files are adjusted to play up different colours, shades and threads.

Like so many of Close’s portraits, the tapestries largely depict friends who are prominent figures in the art world. Cindy Sherman is a photographer best known for her socially critical portraits in which she presents herself in different theatrical persona to study identity and culture. Kiki Smith works across a multidisciplinary practice which interrogates the human condition and the natural world. Ellen Gallagher uses painting, film and video to explore issues of race and society. Lyle Ashton Harris employs a diverse artistic practice to navigate ideas of gender, sexuality and cultural history. His work in photography, video, installation and performance often feature individuals from his life in Ghana and the USA.

The exhibition has been organised by Ushaw in collaboration with Judith King from Arts & Heritage and supported by Chuck Close Studio, Magnolia Editions and Pace Gallery. The exhibition has been funded with support from Arts Council England and Durham County Council. Thanks to all those involved for making the exhibition possible and special thanks to Era Farnsworth from Magnolia Editions.

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