Bob 1970 is one of a series of eight large black and white portraits that Close painted between November 1967 and April 1970. He began work on Bob in the last months of 1969 and finished at the beginning of 1970.1 Bob immediately preceded Keith 1970 (collection of the artist),2 the last of the black and white series. Close then began using colour in his paintings.
Like all the black and white heads, Bob is painted from grided photographs onto a gessoed ground using black paint applied with an airbrush to build up the dark tones. White paint is used occasionally for the highlights but more often the black pigment is scraped back using a razorblade or an electric eraser. The subject of the painting is one of Close's friends, Robert Israel, a New York based opera designer. Israel later recalled:
I had wanted Chuck to ask me to pose for him, but I really didn't feel it was proper for me to ask. Chuck's decision of who he would paint had to do not only with whether you were a friend, but with the topology of your face. And I didn't really think it was my business to ask him if I could pose.
But eventually he did ask me and Joe Zucker to pose and I recall that it was on Memorial Day that Joe and I went to a photographic studio where Chuck wet up a box camera and took our pictures.3
During the painting of Bob Close remembers this incident:
I had taken a break and was walking back into the studio. Looking at the painting, I realised that a highlight in one of the eyes was too bright. And I said, 'Damn it, now I'm going to have to take his glasses off'. But when I realised what I had said, I pivoted on my heel and walked out leaving the lights on, the compressor on and the airbrushes full of paint. When you start believing in your own illusion, you're in serious trouble.4
At much the same time that Close was working on the painting Bob he made a film portrait of Israel, Slow Pan/Bob 1970 (16mm, black and white, 10 min. duration), in which the slowly moving camera minutely scrutinised areas of the sitter's face. The photograph used by Close for the painting Bob was used again in 1973, when the artist made a series of four pencil and ink drawings.5
Michael Lloyd & Michael Desmond European and American Paintings and Sculptures 1870-1970 in the Australian National Gallery 1992 p.408.