A striking example of the artist’s iconic Word paintings, Christopher Wool’s Hole exudes an edginess that will forever be linked to the post-Punk scene of 1980s New York City. Wool’s disruptive energy and attitude run through the very heart of this work with his arresting visual language projecting a gritty, 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 fires our imagination in search of the understanding of its multiple meanings.
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.”
Personal in scale, yet big on impact, this painting creates an unsettling relationship with the viewer, drawing you closer before delivering its dramatic message in a unapologetically blunt manner. The way in which the black enamel paint has been sprayed onto the metal surface ensures the words carry a sense of urgency; ghostly shadows of excess spray paint can be seen along the right edge, and the single drip of surplus paint trailing from the heel of the letter ‘A’ and the smudge on the underside of the 'U' hint at the pace at which this work was executed. The phrase is also 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 his words and phrases into a visual material which he then controls, forming them to fit the physical space of the painting. Similar to the font adopted by the U.S. military after World War II, Wool's typeface matches it in its utilitarian nature, these elements then combined with the physical size creates a sense of stark authority. The visual austerity of the lettering also commands immediate attention, referencing his choice of a commercially derived letter type customarily used to covey straightforward information.
The ghostly gray shadow of the stencil around the “R,” and a small drip of paint below the “A,” recall the artist’s “drip” paintings of the mid 1980s and remain as evidence that the artist’s hand is very much present in the current work. Together, these two details break the austere nature of the stencil, referencing not only Wool’s past and the graffiti subtext but also cultivate the personal sphere of the painting, bringing the artist’s action to life.
There is a post-Pop intensity to the stenciled letters in Wool's Word paintings. With the same renegade authority as the graffiti messages that inspired them, this incitement first to read and then to run has 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 same warnings, boasts, insults and territorial markers of graffiti that can also be found in the work of Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring. Yet they can also be seen as illustrating the limits of painting at the time, demonstrating the fallacy of language and symbolic meaning of art in general. By braking words and phrases across the surface, Wool makes the viewer deduce and re-imagine their meanings. The no-frills lettering also recalls the word works of Ed Ruscha or Joseph Kosuth. However, where Kosuth's works are deliberately self-constrained, hermetically sealed by the words that they formed, like Ruscha textural canvases, Wool's Hole is rogue; it is disjointed and points to the ambiguity of language.
Wool’s Word paintings emerged during a time bursting with a rough punk 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 the artist 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. Executed 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.
Lot Essay Header Image: Present lot illustrated (detail).