NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- In nearly 40 years of creating large-scale iconic images, American artist Chuck Close had never taken a commission, or allowed his work to be used commercially. That will change this year when Mr. Close starts shooting an ad campaign for AOL.
It's not strictly an ad campaign, but more a showcase of American artists, designers and inventors, part of a year-long "Project on Creativity" that includes Mr. Close making images of AOL users that have made a difference, like inventor Dean Kamen, who designed the wheelchair he uses to get around, filmmaker Gus Van Sant, also an AOL user (who knew?), and actress Claire Danes.
"I really wanted to get involved because of their commitment to creativity on all fronts," Mr. Close said at the unveiling of the project at AOL's 25th anniversary party at the New Museum in New York City.
Mr. Close is working with designer Andy Spade to find subjects, who will find their images adorned with AOL branding in magazines, on billboards and the web starting in four weeks and lasting until at least the end of the year.
"There are a great number of AOL customers who have made a difference over the years; we have no trouble finding them," Mr. Close said.
How did AOL get Mr. Close to help re-create its brand identity? CEO Tim Armstrong and Mr. Spade wrote him a letter. "He responded and took a meeting," Mr. Spade said. "He said, 'I love the idea.'"
In addition to assisting the project, Mr. Spade's firm, Partners & Spade, is producing a video series on people with creative careers called "I Am."
A few of Mr. Close's subjects are the artists behind a new set of 74 "canvases" created by 41 artists for the AOL logo, part of a design vernacular created by Wolff Olins last fall, which superimposes the AOL logo on any number of images and designs.
In addition to the images, AOL is funding 25 one-year scholarships worth $25,000 for young artists, journalists, chefs, illustrators, filmmakers and other creative professionals. AOL is also planning a conference on creativity with Mr. Close for the fall.
"He sees we are investing in the global creative community; that we are trying to reinvent an American iconic brand," Maureen Sullivan, AOL's 28-year-old head of marketing, said of Mr. Close's involvement. "He thinks that's quite noble, and he signed on."
The agreement, she said, is one page and incredibly un-commercial, one she will frame and "keep in our office a long time."