Emblematically composed in striking serial pairs, the magnificent black eagles of Christopher Wool’s 1989 work Untitled navigate seamlessly between the abstract and the figurative. The heroic avian forms, emblazoned against a pure white aluminium ground, stem from a seminal series of works begun in 1986, in which Wool drew inspiration from a variety of archaic ornamental designs, recasting his nostalgic subject matter in the contemporary urban language of post-Punk New York. Executed with searing vitality, these works investigate the relationship between utility and aesthetic tradition, stripping the decorative symbols of their original function and allowing them to participate in new modes of artistic discourse. Operating as a counterpoint to the painterly renaissance espoused by movements such as Neo-Expressionism, the divergent evocations of both wallpaper design and stenciled graffiti in the present work bear witness to Wool’s ability to interrogate the conceptual limits of contemporary art.
In a series which recontextualised bygone floral and geometric designs, the eagle is one of Wool’s most instantly recognisable motifs, producing an intricate and iconic silhouette. In Untitled, the even repetition of this form is nuanced by the individual variations in paint application, providing an insight into Wool’s newly developed method. At the inception of the series in 1986, Wool deployed a rubber paint roller, marking a distinct break from his earlier drip paintings and teasingly evoking the application of wallpaper – the original domain of much of his imagery. In 1988, the year before the present work, Wool added the rubber stamp to his technical arsenal, thus enabling the series to engage with more sophisticated, complex forms. This method gave rise to compelling idiosyncrasies in the articulation of each print – a feature clearly demonstrated in the present work. With no two eagles identical, the work is imbued with a sense of rawness that perfectly complements its uniform composition.
As part of a definitive series within Wool’s early oeuvre, Untitled vacillates between symbolism and formalism, communication and decoration. In this respect, the work relates to Wool’s word-based paintings, begun in 1987, which investigate the relationship between the linguistic and the pictorial. At the same time, this work demonstrates the flair with which Wool’s unique artistic vocabulary engages the varied language of post-war American art. Merging the legacy of Pop Art with that of Abstract Expressionism, Wool conflates cool reproduction with an interest in ‘allover’ surface pattern, read through the lens of street graffiti. Synthesising these influences within a work which fuses together the abstract and the figurative, the urban and the ornamental, Wool deftly challenges the boundaries of
contemporary image production.