Wool’s iconic ‘word paintings’ feature black letters stencilled on white metal panels. They make bold statements that directly address the viewer, often conveying a mood of anxiety and danger. Apocalypse Now (1988) reads ‘SELL THE HOUSE SELL THE CAR SELL THE KIDS’, lifting dialogue from the titular movie. It sold for almost $27 million at Christie’s New York in 2013, and remains one of Wool’s highest auction records.
Wool experimented with prints, stamps and stencils throughout the 1990s. He left his process visible, creating layers of visual noise, breakdown and interference. His use of rollered, wallpaper-like patterns was inspired by the interior decor of low-rent apartment buildings on the Lower East Side.
In the wake of Pop Art and Minimalism, Wool’s reticent, rigorous works placed the artist’s hand at a range of mechanical removes. Where, he asked, did the boundaries of painting begin and end? When did a gesture become empty, or change its meaning?
Wool’s streetwise serial forms were also entangled with freehand mark-making. In the early 2000s, he began to photograph, reproduce and wipe out elements from previous paintings. With loops of sprayed enamel and washes of turpentine, some of his surfaces seem to retool the Abstract Expressionism of Jackson Pollock or Willem de Kooning.
Unlike the work of that earlier New York generation, Wool’s art is haunted by doubt about its own existence. His abstractions often appear partly erased, as if trying to cancel themselves out. Their uncertainty is bracingly authentic. Wool’s self-effacing paintings have their own severe beauty.