Born 1955, Chicago, Illinois
Studied at Sarah Lawrence College, Bronxville, New York; New York Studio School; New York University
Lives and works in New York, New York
Christopher Wool’s paintings came at time when 1980s Neo-Expressionist painting had achieved a certain amount of ascendancy not only in New York but also in Germany and Italy. In reaction to this climate, Wool, along with painters like Peter Halley and Phillip Taaffe, reinvented abstract painting by incorporating into their work historical arguments against painterly expression as a valid art form. Specifically, Wool brought the lineage of conceptual and minimalist art to bear on abstract painting, not conceding the end of painting to theoretical debate but instead imagining a painting fully aware of its own criticism.
The Broad Art Foundation’s Untitled, 1987 is a good example of Wool’s early practice of using patterned rollers to create a painting. The mass produced image is unapologetically out of date and stretches across a surface of aluminum. Using a consistent all-over composition as was used in works of Color Field Artists like Barnett Newman and Mark Rothko but without any claims to beauty or transcendence, Wool’s image invites arguments against color field painters as “decorative” or accusations that their works recalled “wallpaper.” At the same time, however, the work moves past parody or mere argument. Countering a seamless, mass produced aesthetic, Wool’s image is gritty and full of the imperfections resulting from the rolling the paint. These errors add a human vulnerability to the proceeding which some historians have described as expression entering the works from the “back door.”
During his work on his patterned paintings, a very ordinary experience inspired Wool’s use of text, namely seeing a truck outside his studio, freshly painted white except for black graffiti spelling out the words "sex" and "luv.” The paintings that would follow are perhaps Wool’s most recognizable images, employing large passages of text from cultural idioms or song lyrics from popular culture. Untitled, 1990, also owned by the Foundation, features the words “Run Dog Run” printed across a series of aluminum panels. The words are repeated in a staccato fashion, clipped in half by line breaks imposed by Wool on the surface. His repetition of words, his use of unconventional spacing, and his intentionally clumsy rhythms give the sense that communication is broken or disabled.
Between 1988 and 2000 Christopher Wool created approximately seventy-five large-scale word paintings and very few works on paper. The words themselves, appropriated from popular culture such as movies, music and books, were placed within the context of painting; their meanings obscured and their function more closely aligned with imagery than with vocabulary.
Wool started the word paintings using store-bought stencils but soon began to explore fonts and create his own stencils in custom sizes. Focused on the process, the large proportionately-scaled stencils were meticulously placed on the panel so that everything would be just right. The resulting defects and flaws that were inherent to the process of creation became integral parts of each finished work.
In 1989 Wool created a series of paintings featuring mostly nine-letter words describing character types. Evenly spaced, with three letters on three lines, the series includes words such a celebrity, hypnotist and anarchist along with the word prankster. The meanings of these words, within the context of Wool’s artwork, are ambiguous. (Is Wool referring to the painting? to the viewer? or to himself, the artist?)
The Black Book encompasses 17 of these word texts on 23 x 17" somerset paper