Christopher Wool

Untitled, 2014

silkscreen ink on linen

320 × 243.8 cm


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Accompanied by a certificate of authenticity.

Image appears courtesy of Christopher Wool, © Christopher Wool

Artwork
Description

The core element of Christopher Wool’s work is the process of painting itself. He has consistently explored the very essence of painting as a medium – form, line, colour – and engaged with its complexity by exploring the tension between application and erasure, depth, flatness and gesture, as in Untitled. Wool marks painting out as as much a conceptually driven practice as one tending towards the aesthetic.  He experiments with different painting and reproduction techniques, using silkscreen, spray paint or pattern rollers, layering and erasing different forms of mark-making – making reference to the process and gestures that have, in turn, marked contemporary art history. Here an obvious precedent is the layered and surface-rich ‘number’ paintings of Jasper Johns. Wool is also, however, appropriating his own earlier paintings, particularly his most well-know ‘word paintings’ – black stencilled letters that that form isolated words or fragments of phrases, aggressively silhouetted against the white canvas. The artist screen prints parts of the earlier painting directly onto the canvas, and then engages in a process of reproducing, vandalising and renewing the vacated letters through physical intervention. Where the word paintings hover between language and image, representation and abstraction, Wool’s newer works adopt the iconicity of his earlier work and attempts to blur their recognisability and semantic wholeness.

The scale of the work, and the use of Wool’s typically spare palette – black, white and white – has the potential to overwhelm the viewer. There is a brutality and decadence in the overlaid skeins of silkscreen ink, both a formal decay and a tangled web of self-appropriation. In mining the medium of painting, Wool suggests that any previous form is ripe for commandeering. Silkscreen and spray paint, in a sense, act as metonyms for their most recognised practitioners – Warhol and Basquiat (Wool’s contemporary in the New York art scene of the 1980s). By co-opting his own painting into the work, Wool further complicates this easy tracing of art historical lineage. The artist also uses digital processing to warp the scale, colour and resolution of his previously painted marks, further complicating its layered and conflicted originality. The insertion of a conceptual gesture into the picture plane, as here, is what defines Wool’s practice, and what creates a space in his work that marks itself out as more than a disregard for the physicality of the canvas:

“Christopher Wool’s paintings seem to capture visual urban experience, carved out of a moment for the duration of an artwork – an artwork that converts the structures of experience into the structures of painting. Non-specific moment and impressions are lifted out of context and fixed into details of a painting that, unlike graffiti, conveys the speed and concentration of its origin only when it is contemplated over a measure of time in an art space. The dynamic of the picture’s conception becomes, very gradually, the dynamite of the thought it contains. Thought pictures” (Friedrich Meschede, ‘The Nothingness before Nothing,’ Christopher Wool, Galerie Max Hetzler and Holzwarth Publications, 2007).

About
the artist

Christopher Wool (b. 1955) was born in Chicago and now lives and works in New York. He is one of the most recognised abstract painters working today. His influential method and practice has dramatically evolved throughout his career. Over the years, he has developed a number of signature techniques; interested in the visual representation of language and colour through abstraction, he is best known for his graphic black and white word paintings.

He has consistently questioned painting as a medium by deliberately removing himself from historical conventions, and uses the process of painting as a vehicle for critique from within. What persists in his experimental work is a willingness to confront the ongoing dislocations and tensions between the configuration and the representational dimensions of the artistic process. The result is a refusal, which is as much political as it is aesthetic, of the agreeable synthesis of configuration and representation in classical art theory.

In the 1980s, the artist rose to prominence during a time when the conceptual and minimal movement in the United States had boycotted painting as a viable medium. A new generation of American artists at the time – including Wool, Richard Prince, and Jean-Michel Basquiat – engaged with painting to make it their own. In the late 1980s, Wool developed his pronounced word paintings that assembled alliterative statements and laid out incomplete phrases in a gridded pattern. In 1988, he introduced the use of a rubber stamp with the roller, constructing a pattern by repeating the stamped image.

During the 1990s, silkscreen became the artist’s preferred technique and one that he continues to use. He began to explore a process-based practice, heavily influenced by the drip paintings of Jackson Pollock and works associated with post-minimalism. He is most instantly recognisable for his paintings of large black stencilled letters on white canvases. However, he works in a wide range of styles – using a combined array of painterly techniques, including spray-paint, silkscreen, and hand painting. His loose style allows for imperfections throughout: such as overprinting, slipping and clogged screens – but the artist embraces these imperfections, each one contributing to the individuality of his works.

Wool embraces failure and parodies, the grand archetypes of traditional painting. He has also explored various styles of mark making, starting with single lines, and then intertwining lines. The result is a free yet formal repetitive aesthetic which continues Wool’s career-long inquiry into the deconstruction of the conventions of painting. Making an image entails giving himself up to a mode of painting which does not offer the viewer insight to what has actually been painted. An intricate web of appropriation and layering has become synonymous with the artist’s celebrated oeuvre as a whole. His sophisticated exploration and development of process-based painting has received vast critical acclaim and paved the way for younger generations of artists. Sensational, provocative, and endlessly engaging, his vast body of work claims him as one of the most influential painters of the modern era.


He has consistently questioned painting as a medium by deliberately removing himself from historical conventions, and uses the process of painting as a vehicle for critique from within. What persists in his experimental work is a willingness to confront the ongoing dislocations and tensions between the configuration and the representational dimensions of the artistic process.

The result is a refusal, which is as much political as it is aesthetic, of the agreeable synthesis of configuration and representation in classical art theory.


Christopher Wool
on Artuner

Part of the
exhibition