Christopher Wool (b. 1955)
On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more Property from an Important European Collection sold to benefit the Collegium Museum
Christopher Wool (b. 1955)


Christopher Wool (b. 1955)
signed, titled, numbered and dated 'WOOL 2001 LESTER (P331)' (on the overlap); signed again, titled again, numbered again and dated again 'WOOL 2001 "LESTER" (P331)' (on the stretcher)
enamel on canvas
108 1/4 x 72 in. (275 x 182.8 cm.)
Painted in 2001.
Luhring Augustine, New York
11 Duke Street Limited, London
Private collection, Paris
Private collection
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Christopher Wool: Crosstown Crosstown, exh. cat., Dundee Contemporary Arts, 2003, p. 139 (illustrated in color).
New York, Luhring Augustine, Christopher Wool, April-June 2001.
Vienna, Secession, Christopher Wool, September-November 2001, n.p. (illustrated in color).
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Lot Essay

Equally complex in concept and execution, Christopher Wool’s 2001 Lester perfectly captures the artist’s process-oriented, multilayered approach to painting. Using silkscreen and spray paint, Wool composes, edits, and builds the explosive picture, repeatedly quoting his own past works in the process. Famously self-referential, Wool documents past paintings for use in future ones, often silk screening entire passages onto a new work. Thus, Wool questions and destabilizes the related notions of originality and authorship by re-using and re-purposing spontaneous painterly gestures. For Wool, authenticity is defined conceptually, through an unwavering commitment to consistency and formal innovation within his famously singular and iconic body of work. Lester hails from an important moment in the artist’s career, when his paintings began to turn deeper inward, becoming self-actualizing parts of an expansive and ever-growing oeuvre.

A forceful, energetic painting, Lester captures Wool’s almost expressionistic tendencies, combining several strategies and motifs at once. Silkscreening a centralized blast of black ink, Wool peppers in real splatter to obscure his own hand and impede the viewer’s ability to deduce the nominally authentic from the nominally artificial. Split into four roughly equal quadrants, Wool hints at the practical limitations of the silkscreen while also plainly and proudly displaying the nature of his painterly trickery. Slipping behind and emerging all around the centralized expanse of black is a loose and hastily painted example of Wool’s iconic squiggle. This example, searching and free-flowing, finds Wool stretching the form over the canvas surface and, in the process, expanding and anchoring the painting’s composition. Radiating outward, Wool’s gesture functions like an aura around the captivating blackness at the picture’s center, providing balance and parity between the silkscreened and the sprayed.

Known for the purposefully wrought tension in his work, Wool frequently pits disparate styles, techniques, and even painterly approaches into a given painting. Writing about this tendency and its connection to Wool’s signature spray squiggle, Glenn O’Brien notes, “Christopher Wool takes it to the bridge, spanning abstract expressionism and pop, drama and comedy, funk and the sublime. The emblem of his advanced funkiness is his spray squiggle—with all the innocence of an amateur doodle yet all the stealth of a master brushstroke” (G. O’Brien, “Apocalypse and Wallpaper,” quoted by H. W. Holzworth, Christopher Wool, Cologne, 2012). Here, Wool stretches the central motif to the four corners of the canvas support. Obscured behind an opaque, inky mass of black enamel, the viewer is left wondering whether the gesture is continuous or, like so much of Wool’s work, a carefully crafted illusion. Wool not only combines disparate attitudes toward mark-making, but confronts the idea of the purposeful mark altogether.

Deeply invested in the technical and physical act of painting, Wool says that he “…often [wants] a painting to feel like it is the result of a certain process, a process that was not simply the painting/picturing process of putting together a formally successful painting” (C. Wool, quoted by A. Goldstein, “How to Paint,” ibid, p. 171). Indeed, Lester’s surface owes a tremendous amount to Wool’s pioneering process. Whole passages of the frenetic surface result from the technical parameters of the silkscreen, as does the painting’s division into four quadrants. For Wool, meaning is often found in the margins and technical annals of his work. Here, Wool utilizes technique in service of composition and form, which in turn influence the techniques Wool uses. In this way, the painting is a visual record of a one-man conversation, with Wool actively responding to the work and adjusting his approach accordingly. “Painting, for me, is often a struggle between the planned and the unforeseen,” says Wool. “The best paintings are the ones that you could not have imagined before you began…” (C. Wool quoted in Hans Werner Holzwarth, Ed., Christopher Wool, New York 2008, p. 266).

For the artist, that constant tension between the intentional and the unexpected plays out most visibly in the relationship between the sprayed squiggle and the screened splatter. Likewise, they represent the dichotomy between the hand-painted and the mechanical so central to this series and Wool’s work more broadly. Divided along that line, the traditionally applied spray paint contrasts with the obvious artifice of the supposedly splattered black. Underscoring the role of the silkscreen in Wool’s work, Lester uses the medium to subtly reveal its own agenda, with discrete misalignments in the four screens betraying the falseness of the splatter. But, in Wool’s practice, democracy carries the day and no single mark is valued over any another, compositionally or otherwise. The interplay between the squiggle and the silkscreen reinforces the impressive compositional wholeness of the picture and underscores the steadfastness of Wool’s commitment to his own work and guiding painterly principles. Like his Word paintings, in which letters and words collapse into abstraction only to become whole again, Wool’s abstract marks blur together and pull apart, reinforcing the essential connection between the two.

Since his emergence and rise to prominence in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, Wool has retained his status as a crucial and ethos-defining artist. Continuing to influence scores of younger artists, Wool’s practice has both evolved and stayed markedly consistent with his earlier output. Driven by a rigorous conceptual framework and a sharp eye for composition, Wool’s highly individual output has remained uniquely his own. Lester perfectly summarizes Wool’s appeal, with its gritty aesthetic marked by the seductive dance between spontaneity and careful planning. The picture also defines and epitomizes Wool’s output of the early 2000s, in which he began quoting himself more frequently and turning to the previous two decades of his career for source material and direction. An important and illustrative example of one of the most enduring contemporary painters, Lester finds Wool at his most confident, brash and visually effective.

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