Christopher Wool (b. 1955)
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Christopher Wool (b. 1955)


Christopher Wool (b. 1955)
signed and dated 'WOOL 2000' (on the stretcher)
enamel on canvas
108 x 72 in. (274.3 x 182.9 cm.)
Painted in 2000.
Galerie Max Hetzler, Berlin
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 2002
New York, New Museum, Skin Fruit, March-June 2010, pp. 123 and 204 (illustrated in color).
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With its anarchic composition and aura of self-vandalism, Christopher Wool’s Untitled, 2000, hails from the beginning of a period when Wool began to use his own work as source material, further dismantling the boundaries between figuration and abstraction that his compelling oeuvre seeks to dissolve. Taking an image of one of his own finished paintings Wool created a silkscreen, often indicated, as here, by the division of the picture plane into quadrants. Divided into a cross section, the canvas is deliberately misaligned, the flow of the original disrupted by this destructive breach. Abandoning his signature stark black-and-white palette with the introduction of graffiti-esque, Day-Glo pink scrawls, in Untitled Wool relinquishes his resistance to the gestural freedom of the artist’s hand that his visually prohibitive stenciled word paintings so strongly refute. Overlaid with splashes and drips of black enamel paint, Untitled recalls the dynamic vitality of the Abstract Expressionists, particularly Jackson Pollock’s daring all-over compositions, while the gestural fury of Wool’s technique indicates the speed and ferocity with which he works. Just as with his text-based works, Untitled shares an interest in layering, yet unlike the semantic multiplicity of the word paintings, here meaning is located in the intricacies of the work’s process, successively building up and effacing its own composition. Like in his subsequent ‘gray paintings’ in which the artist wipes away layers of paint to create a blurred composition of tangled lines and washed obscurity, the layer of spattered black acts as an erasure, swallowing the luminescent scrawl, balanced somewhere between an act of addition and one of subtraction. Grappling with a complex series of ideas in an age where many regarded the practice of painting to be outmoded and obsolete, with his insistence on the continued relevance of painting, Wool acted as the vanguard for a new generation of artists who, although celebrating one of the most traditional means of artistic expression, continued to push the boundaries of the medium to ensure its relevance for a new generation of artists.

Wool’s complex investigations into abstraction began in the late 1980s when, inspired by the urban graffiti of Chicago, he produced a series of paintings which took familiar words and phrases and, by removing key lexical elements, broke them down into abstracted combinations of letters and forms. Received with critical acclaim, Wool’s word paintings became some of the most celebrated works by a new generation of artists who were reacting to the dominance of Minimalism and Conceptualism in the 1960s and 1970s. By 1993 Wool had migrated to appropriating graphic floral motifs in increasingly complex arrangements which he applied to the surface of his work using the distinctly Warholian process of silkscreening. Following on from his use of roller-painting, this process enabled Wool to embrace the notion of chance, and the inexact nature of silkscreening gave rise to a series of drips, pooling and shadow—the remains of the physical exertion needed to push the ink through the screen. In 1999 he turned to self-appropriation, mining his pre-existing body of work for a new technique in which he would take a finished picture, create a silkscreen and then use it as the basis for a whole new image. Fractured, divided and repeated across the picture plane, these new paintings were the latest stage in Wool’s dismantling of the traditional figure-ground relationship—producing a more anonymous image with seemingly scant regard for the time-honored aura of the artist’s hand. Katherine Brinson, the curator Wool’s recent major retrospective at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, says of these paintings, “Whereas the source paintings are characterized by ghostly layers and subtly rendered details, in the second generation all visual information is fattened into a crisply delineated silhouette of the original creating a stark, monochromatic polarity between ground and image” (K. Brinson, “Trouble Is My Business,” Christopher Wool, exh. cat., Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 2013, p. 35).

Despite the prevalence of his almost totally monochromatic black-and-white palette, Wool’s oeuvre is punctuated by vibrant passages of color, shocking against his usually reductive chromatic selection. While Untitled offers a hint of fluorescent pink with its luminescent scribble, in works such as Untitled, 1995, with its redacted silkscreened image of flowers vividly effaced with exuberant strokes of canary yellow, or I Can’t Stand Myself When You Touch Me, 1994, obliterated with splashed bubble-gum pink, color floods the canvas. From the mid-1990s vivid hues would continue to periodically infiltrate the artist’s puritanical palette. Nonetheless, Wool remains deliberately restrictive in his use of chromatic diversions, and in Untitled it is in fact the colored line that is redacted by the surge of black pigment that accumulates in pools and drips over the canvas. These experiments with chromatic diversity would lead to a further expansion of Wool’s rigorous practice. Seen here in the abstract scrawl that weaves across the canvas in magnified loops and convoluted twists Wool began to experiment with the liberation of the artist’s hand. For Wool the act of spray painting has more in common with drawing than painting, and with this looping, freehand gesture evocative of street art Wool relinquishes his hold on his previously austere technique. Brinson observes, “this new, intentionally awkward form—part tag, part Twombly—marked the first time in his mature practice he had allowed his own hand to generate an invented and wholly nonrepresentational element, even if the inherently distanced application of the spray tempered the immediacy of human touch” (K. Brinson, ibid., p. 44).

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