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Wade Guyton (b. 1972)
Wade Guyton (b. 1972)
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From time to time, Christie's may offer a lot whic… Read more
Wade Guyton (b. 1972)


Wade Guyton (b. 1972)
Epson UltraChrome inkjet on linen
59 ¼ x 35 5/8 in. (150.5 x 90.5 cm.)
Executed in 2005.
Petzel Gallery, New York
Private collection, New York, 2005
Acquired from the above by the present owner
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Ana Maria Celis
Ana Maria Celis

Lot Essay

With red flames licking the lower edge of the linen support, Wade Guyton’s Untitled is a smoldering example of the artist’s inkjet works. The composition is dominated by a pair of abstracted floating U shapes disconcertingly hovering above flickering fire, set against a black ground. By combining parts of an image found on a book cover with painterly daubs and drips, Guyton successfully blurs the lines between abstraction and reality. As Ann Temkin, Chief Curator of Painting and Sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art once proclaimed, “Pollock flung it; Rauschenberg silkscreened it; Richter took a squeegee; Polke used chemicals. Wade is working in what is now a pretty venerable tradition, against the conventional idea of painting” (A. Temkin quoted by C. Vogel, ‘Painting, Rebooted,’ New York Times, September 27, 2012). 

Painted in 2005, Untitled dates from the year that Guyton first began producing his inkjet paintings on linen, a significant turning-point in the artist’s career. He had already been investigating the technique in 2002, when he created a series of so-called “drawings” in which simple patterns created in Microsoft Word were overprinted onto pages ripped out of books from his library. Searching for a way to create abstract elements, Guyton suddenly recognized the creative potential of Word. He explains, “What I realized is that Microsoft Word has a structure to it. It has a language and margins. It has functions and a default size and a default color, which is black. And all those presets I decided to use as the structure for making drawings” (W. Guyton, ibid.).

In 2005, these works on paper gave way to a new phase of inkjet paintings that would dramatically change the course of his practice. Rather than feeding the paper page into the printer, Guyton began scanning the full book cover into his computer, editing the image in a digital file, and printing it onto a high-quality primed linen he had chanced upon in New York. Made in Provence, this new support was ideally suited to registering ink, and allowed Guyton to explore the painterly possibilities of the printer. As the machine attempted to digest the canvas, blurring, bleeding and skidding transpired in the transfer of ink, creating a new vocabulary of artistic nuances.

Chance and accident greatly inform works like Untitled, in which Guyton encourages but ultimately cannot control the breaks and slips that occur in the printing process. In a way, these slips, created free of the artist’s hand, are indices of their authorship in the same way that certain painterly gestures can identify a painter, such as Jackson Pollock. Thus, computers, scanners and printers have become Guyton’s paintbrush, and the union of these tools with the canvas produces remarkable, while unpredictable, effects that bring Guyton’s iconography to life in ways he could not have imagined. One example of this is the flame motif that appears frequently in Guyton’s art and comprises an important element in the present work. “Fire is always captivating,” he claims, “...Destructive, but also generative. And of course hot. There’s a great interaction between the image and the material in the fire paintings, which I didn’t predict, in the way the ink drips and runs. The first time I printed the fire on linen was one of those brutally humid New York summer nights. No AC in the studio. I was sweating and the paintings were melting” (W. Guyton, quoted in interview with D. De Salvo, in Wade Guyton OS, exh. cat., Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 2012, p. 204).

These now-dried drips on the linen in Untitled make a provocative visual pairing with the flames below, a motif that Guyton had originally acquired from an old book cover found in his library during his earlier “drawing” phrase. In 2005, disenchanted with the increasingly abstract appearance of his works, he began using the scanned image of the book cover in an effort to reintroduce a sense of pictorial content to his practice. The resulting fire paintings like Untitled revealed the power of the printer not just to reproduce, but to paint—and, indeed, to re-conceptualize. The original book cover, with its torn edges visible along the top edge of the present work, is transformed in the process from a physical object to an image. The flames and letter U also become new representations of themselves, images that are removed from their original context.

Guyton’s digital paintings also echo Yves Klein’s series of fire paintings, created decades earlier, in which the artist distorted paper and cardboard with an ignited torch that imprinted abstract patterns in the support as it burned. Like Untitled, Klein’s fire-born works use non-traditional materials and chance in the service of painting, and push the limits of art past its conventional definitions. Describing what drew him to certain artists for inspiration, Guyton recalls, “When I started to be interested in making art, all the artists I was interested in were involved with the manipulation of language or the malleability of the categories of art. There was a freedom in this way of thinking. There was a space where objects could be speculative” (W. Guyton, quoted in S. Rothkopf, “Operating System: I. From Image to Object,” in Wade Guyton OS, exh. cat., Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 2012, p. 11).

Guyton’s harnessing of a medium that ostensibly dispensed with the artist’s hand was, in part, a product of his own anxieties regarding image-making in the face of the vast art historical legacy, and in the contemporary world of ubiquitous digital images. Yet, by tapping into the potential of the printer to reinvent one of the most time-honored artistic mediums, Guyton’s works have come to occupy an important position within the artistic canon that daunted him in his early years. As Whitney curator Scott Rothkopf states, “[Guyton] improbably endows these mechanical pictures with a lived sense of his struggle to bring an image from the screen onto the canvas or simply to bring an image into being at all...[T]he interaction between the digital and the manual, the pictorial and the literal, have always been at the heart of Guyton’s practice and its deeply rooted connection to the ways in which we haltingly navigate the visual and technological barrage of our time,” (S. Rothkopf, “Operating System. I. From Image to Object,” in Wade Guyton OS, exh. cat., Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 2012, p. 25).

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