Christopher Wool's Word paintings emerged during a time bursting with a rough and seedy aesthetic, incorporating dark humor in a post-modern way, effectively becoming an emblem of a current cultural phenomenon. Wool began using words as imagery as early as 1987 after seeing a brand new white truck with the words 'SEX LUV' hand-painted across it. This was an intensely creative period for Wool when he began to focus on double meanings of words or phrases. The ultimate effect was often only achieved when Wool broke them up in the composition of his paintings. Painted in 1992, Hole comes at an important point in the series, still fresh and current, effortlessly capturing the spirit of New York in the early 1990s. The work was acquired by a private collector from a solo exhibition at Luhring Augustine in 1992 and has remained in the family collection.
Wool's energy and attitude run through the very heart of the work. Seen as some of the "punchiest painting of the 1980's and 90's" (Ken Johnson , NYT Art Review, 2001), the series projects a fun, urban air with undertones of a darker humor and meaning. Echoing both the graffiti imagery of the time as well as a more minimal aesthetic, Hole's ability to inspire multiple interpretations are one reason for their enduring presence. A gray shadow of the stencil around the "R" and a small drip of paint below the "A", recalling his "drip" painting of the mid 80's, remain as a testament to Wool's hand in the work. Together, they break the austere nature of the stencil and reference not only Wool's past and the graffiti subtext but also cultivating the personal sphere of the painting, bringing the artist's action into the home.
The phrase is intrinsically ambiguous in nature, seeming to speak to us about a present danger, yet refusing to definitely root itself in one particular meaning. We are forced to wonder if words are literal or figurative, a caution or a joke. Yet as we read the words they transform from a possible warning aimed at us to one we are giving. There is clearly underlying intent present in the phrase, nevertheless it retains an elusive air, refusing to be easily deciphered.
Wool transforms the words and large phrase into the visual material he plays with, forming them to the physical space of the painting. Similar to the Stencil font adopted by the U.S. military after the World War II, Wool's typeface matches it in its utilitarian nature, and these elements combined with its physical size creates a sense of stark authority. This visual harshness of the lettering also commands immediate attention, referencing his choice of a commercially derived letter type customarily used to covey straightforward information. Slightly less brash than the related painting Hole in Your Fucking Head.
With the same renegade authority as the graffiti message that inspired them originally, this incitement first to read and then to run has a street power. This art is not the descendent of advertising as Pop was, but is rather the product of the disjointed writings of the urban landscape, the warnings, boasts, insults and territorial markers of graffiti. Yet they can also be seen as illustrating the limits of painting at the time, demonstrating the fallacy of language and symbolic meaning in general and in art. By breaking the words and phrases across the canvas, Wool makes the viewer deduce and re-imagine the meanings behind the phrase. The no-frills lettering also recalls Minimalism, especially the word works of Joseph Kosuth. However, where Kosuth's works are deliberately self-constrained, hermetically sealed by the words that they formed, Wool's Hole is rogue; it is disjointed and points to the ambiguity of language.