Christopher Wool (b. 1955)
embossed with the artist's signature 'WOOL' (lower right); signed and dated ‘WOOL 2000’ (on the reverse)
silkscreen ink and enamel on rice paper
66 1/8 x 47 in. (168 x 119.5 cm.)
Executed in 2000.
Eleni Koroneou Gallery, Athens
Private collection, London
Acquired from the above by the present owner
London, Inigo Philbrick, Christopher Wool / Mike Kelley, Paintings on Paper, February-April 2016.
Sale room notice
Please note this lot is embossed with the artist's signature 'WOOL' (lower right).

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Emily Kaplan
Emily Kaplan

Lot Essay

"My argument has always been that painting and the other mediums are not essentially different, and the same goes for figuration and abstraction. I firmly believe it’s not the medium that’s important, it’s what you do with it." -- Christopher Wool

Christopher Wool’s Untitled from 2000 reveals the intimate complexities and self-referential methods that have cemented Wool as one of today’s most revered and influential painters. Using enamel and pigment applied with a silkscreen, Wool reinterprets one of post-war art’s most iconic gestures—the fervent paint splash—turning it from a heated, spontaneous action into a wryly calculated one. At the same time, Wool applies paint to the surface by hand, striking a heady balance between the authentic and the artificial. For Wool, the act of painting is one of editing. He constantly mines his previous efforts for new forms, taking a passage from one work to another before altering it, only to re-use the altered version in a subsequent picture, and so on. His oeuvre, especially abstract works like Untitled, form a contiguous body of work stitched together by the guiding principle that an artist’s past is not as its name implies—finished—but instead a rich resource for the artist’s use in planning his or her next formal move. Untitled exemplifies this attitude on a human scale and with the compositional dexterity for which Wool is celebrated.

Using gestural abstraction as his visual starting point, Wool lays down a field of flitting yellow throughout the present composition. He then covers most of that with the black mass that constitutes the bulk of the image—an impenetrable and unflinching passage that dominates the picture and draws the viewer into its Rorschach-like mimed spontaneity. But Wool makes no effort to hide its artifice—he reveals his method by leaving intact several of the blotted edges. These incongruences immediately catch the viewers eye, suggest Wool’s painterly strategy and serve as a sort of casual framing device for the picture’s central action. Likewise, closer observation reveals that Wool probably combined two screened images, as evidenced by the halved blot of paint at the painting’s center-left edge. For Wool, artifice and authenticity are far from mutually exclusive; he allows the two paradigmatic conditions to reconcile to dazzling effect.

Known for the purposefully wrought tension in his work, Wool frequently pits disparate styles, techniques and even painterly approaches into a given work. Writing about this tendency and its connection to Wool’s signature mode of abstraction, Glenn O’Brien notes, “Christopher Wool takes it to the bridge, spanning abstract expressionism and pop, drama and comedy, funk and the sublime” (G. O’Brien "Apocalypse and Wallpaper." In Christopher Wool, edited by Hans Werner Holzwarth, p. 9. Cologne: Taschen, 2012). Here, Wool contrasts the yellow with the inky black. The viewer is left wondering which element is authentic versus a carefully crafted illusion. Wool not only combines disparate attitudes toward mark-making, but confronts the very concept 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 in A. Goldstein, "How to Paint" in Christopher Wool, Cologne, 2012, p. 171). Indeed, Untitled‘s surface owes a tremendous amount to Wool’s pioneering process. The technical parameters of the silkscreen process itself largely accounts for the painting’s surface texture and composition. For Wool, meaning is often found in the margins and technical annals of his work. His paintings are 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).

Untitled proves to be a poignant example of Wool’s sharp understanding of abstraction as it moves into the 21st century. Gone are the days of the brooding painter, isolated in his studio wildly willing painting after painting into existence by force of will. Wool recognizes the inherent contradictions in painting and seeks, rather than to shy away from them, to exploit and respond to them. Wool straddles the line between movements, floating between the cool collectedness of pop, the intensity of abstraction, and the pithy, process based leanings of Dada and Conceptual Art. Untitled serves as a synthesis of these influences and informs viewers as to Wool’s subtle read of these movements but, perhaps more importantly, of his own work and its place at the crossroads of the three.

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