After all this time, Chuck Close still doesn't know what to make of his fans. Last night at the Whitney's Gala and Studio Party in his honor, the 67-year-old artist claimed that he's still “poor white trash from the state of Washington” and wondered “what the hell” he was doing there. When Michael Ovitz interrupted Vulture's chat with him to demand a painting, we began to understand his perspective.
How did you feel about Jerry Saltz's article in New York about the Guggenheim?
I don't care about the Guggenheim. The Guggenheim isn't involved in anything that I am interested in. I don't care about motorcycles and Armani suits.
What about the licensing out of art-world names to extend art to a larger audience?
Everything the Guggenheim does … I don't understand why they want to franchise it out like a Kentucky Fried Chicken.
So I guess you aren't a fan of what Steve Wynn has done in Las Vegas.
Any artist who goes to Las Vegas is an idiot as far as I am concerned. Whoever goes to Las Vegas can stay in Las Vegas.
How do you go about choosing your next portrait subjects?
I paint my family and friends and other artists.
How does one get to be a part of that circle if he wants you to be inspired to paint him?
I don't work with inspiration. Inspiration is for amateurs. I just get to work.
Let's talk about the Whitney.
The Whitney knows that as far as this gala is concerned, I am the worm on the hook to get people to come to the museum daily. But since I am being honored, the thing I wanted to do is celebrate the relationship … [interrupted by Michael Ovitz]
Ovitz: Did you tell her that you owe me a painting?
Close: I owe Michael Ovitz a painting.
Do you encourage a mainstream appreciation of your work, or is art for the elite?
I'm poor white trash from the state of Washington. The fact that art was available to me, a person of no financial means, that galleries were open and the museums provided a smorgasbord of the greatest art in the world … I only want my work in public collections. I am not interested in it being in private people's homes.
At an event honoring your body of work, do you still feel like “poor white trash”?
I'm not changed. Let me tell you something. I go once every four years to the big-boy, tall-boy, fat-guy store. I buy a new suit, a couple of shirts, a few sweaters, and underwear. I have size 15 feet so I go to the only shoe store that has shoes my size. I buy four identical pairs of shoes, and at the end of the first year, I throw one away. These shoes are the shoes I wear every day to paint in. I wear them to black-tie events. I couldn't care less about fashion.
Well, you're wearing pretty fancy eyewear.
They are French. I don't know what they are. —Shira Levine