My sister Anni introduced me to Chuck Close.

She left Michigan and moved to Minneapolis in 2005, where her then boyfriend (now husband) had found his dream job designing bicycles for a company called QBP.  Anni and Joe drove an enormous U-Haul with all of her things from Michigan to Minneapolis that summer, and the plan was that I would follow a few days later with her car.  I had already lived in New York for a few years by then, but had just quit my job and was about to begin grad school at NYU, certainly a sea change in my life.  I sublet my apartment for a month to my soon to be classmate Ben Graney (whom I had never met), and then flew home to Michigan to spend time with family before heading out on a road trip: Chicago, Madison, Minneapolis.

Dave Beck (whose portrait in the cycle is “I Can Breathe Underwater”) and his wife Emily lived in Madison, both in graduate school for art at University of Wisconsin.  Dave and Emily, in the years that followed, introduced me to many artists; whenever they’re in New York we always spend hours in museums or galleries, and I think its partly their influence that makes me search out modern art in whatever city I may find myself.  But it was Anni who introduced me to Chuck Close.

I had never heard of him before.  She took me to the Walker while I was in Minneapolis, and the major exhibition that fall was a retrospective of self-portraits by Chuck Close.  Now if you’re unfamiliar with his work (as I had been) you should know that his canvases are enormous (roughly 7 x 8.5 ft) and that his style is photorealistic.  The piece that would become one of my favorite pieces of art is a huge acrylic painting that I mistook for a photograph.  He is literally larger than life in this painting, with wild hair and five o’clock shadow, thick black glasses and a lit cigarette dangling from his mouth.  Not until I got close did realize it wasn’t a photograph.  His incredible attention to detail, as well as his willingness to look disheveled and unmade even in his own self-portrait, really affected me.

My first real memory of Chuck Taylors is probably from grad school.  Michaela McManus had a pair, and even though the days of punk rock were long faded, and even though the rise of the Williamsburg hipster threatened to make a mockery of them, I bought a pair.  And I have to say, I felt very cool.  I wore them out.  I mean, I completely wore them out, until so little was left of the soles that it was like being barefoot.  I have a pair that I wear even now, the kind without laces that seem to be an optical illusion.  Yet despite all of this, I still associate Chuck Taylors with Stacey Linnartz (whose portrait is “It’s Okay to Break”).

Stacey has impeccable taste, and always manages to look stylish and put together, even in grad school when that was nearly impossible – read: three years of sweatpants.  I distinctly remember her arriving at NYU one morning during the spring of our first year in a beautiful yellow dress and a pair of black Chuck Taylors.  That choice, to wear Chuck Taylors with a dress, epitomizes the pixyish, whimsical qualities that endear Stacey to most everyone she meets.

She wears Chuck Taylors and a beautiful dress

She’s like St. Augustine, her heart feels too much

So you could say that I now have an old pair of Chucks that I carry around with me.  They have different last names, one is a painter and one is a shoe.