“Wool offers us access to a world where things are layered to the point of implosion, where iconographic elements are built up only to virtually fall apart. These recent paintings are also his most emphatically ‘painterly’ to date: the more Wool endeavors to blot out, the more complex things get.” (Joshua Decter, “Christopher Wool: Luhring Augustine Gallery,” Artforum 34, September 1995, p. 89)
“Through process, technique, scale, composition, and imagery, Wool’s work accentuates the tensions and contradictions between the act of painting, the construction of a picture, its physical attributes, the visual experience of looking at it, and the possibilities of playing with and pushing open the thresholds of its meanings. They are defined by what they’re not—and what they hold back.” (Ann Goldstein in Exh. Cat., Los Angeles, The Museum of Contemporary Art (and travelling), Christopher Wool, 1998, p. 263)
Visually explosive in its frenetic composition and richly enthralling in its dense application of pitch-black enamel paint on aluminum support, Christopher Wool’s monumentally scaled and intricately layered Your Sweetness Is My Weakness from 1995 is a key touchstone of the artist’s revolutionary investigation into the genre of painting. The present work braces the viewer in a full-throttle assault of expressive gesture, layering screen after screen of a variety of Wool’s characteristic floral patterns atop one another. Here, the artist employs nearly every motif in his arsenal of industrially sourced decorative images—multi-petal flowers bloom voluptuously amidst assorted bouquets and potted plants, all overlaid like strata over floral roller-brush patterns. Borrowing its title from Barry White’s 1978 R&B chart-topping hit single “Your Sweetness Is My Weakness,” Wool’s riotous composition reverberates with an irrepressible energy that exemplifies the downtown cool of his paintings from the 1990s; the distortion of his silkscreens and overlapping registers turns up the volume on the image so that it stutters like the percussion of a bass-line. As Glenn O’Brien described, “When Wool overpaints with silkscreens he deliberately allows ink and dirt to accumulate with the effect of creating distortion. Think fuzztone on a guitar line.” (Glenn O’Brien, “Apocalypse and Wallpaper” in Hans Werner Holzwarth, Ed., Christopher Wool, Cologne, 2008, p. 14) Wool’s title, though alluring and seductive in its promise of content, is merely an archetypal red herring in the artist’s elusive painterly practice. Madeleine Grynstztejn explains, “Even Wool’s titles become specific and concrete components of this body of work, promising but never delivering interpretative access. Image, title, color, and technique exist independent of one another and resist any integration of meaning.” (Madeleine Grynstztejn in Exh. Cat., Los Angeles, The Museum of Contemporary Art (and travelling), Christopher Wool, 1998, p. 268)
When, in the mid-1990s, Wool abandoned his roller technique in favor of silkscreen, he shifted his emphasis from reduction to layering. Of these paintings, Joshua Decter wrote in Artforum: “Wool offers us access to a world where things are layered to the point of implosion, where iconographic elements are built up only to virtually fall apart. These recent paintings are also his most emphatically ‘painterly’ to date: the more Wool endeavors to blot out, the more complex things get.” (Joshua Decter, “Christopher Wool: Luhring Augustine Gallery,” Artforum 34, September 1995, p. 89) Enlarging and reproducing floral motifs from rubber stamps, Wool repeated the same stamps in rich layers of thick black enamel. The accumulating layers increased in complexity and density, growing out from the center of the picture plane. Wool’s accrual of an armature of screens creates a lush cacophony of densely layered forms that project an aura at once fully resolved and utterly dynamic. As petals, flower stalks, and various vine patterns burst forth across the surface atop grades of thickly applied enamel and overlapping drips, Wool creates a picture plane rife with action that simultaneously imparts a stark flatness. It was in these heavily layered paintings of the mid-1990s that Wool first explored the aesthetic possibilities of intense overprinting and clogging of his screens—as exemplified in Your Sweetness Is My Weakness, the composition is more centralized with a concentrated build-up of imagery. Toward the edges of the floral patterns, Wool leaves traces of his edges of each screen, creating horizontal registers that read like consecutive frames of a film, as in an early Warhol Death and Disaster painting.
Wool’s artistic breakthrough arrived in 1986 and 1987: it was then that the artist discovered a fascination in the patterned rollers incised with blossoms, leaves, and vines that New York landlords would use to paint the hallways of their building in place of the more expensive décor option of wallpaper. Available in hardware and art-supply stores, these banal tools interested Wool for their circular capacity for mechanical reproduction and the disjunction between abstraction and figuration that resulted from their impressions. Wool began to apply black enamel to primed aluminum panels. Lifting this pictorial vocabulary of industrial decoration from readymade devices challenged the expressive impulse in abstract painting with prettified iconography that bristled with banality; deploying these rollers removed the content from the seemingly representational images of floral patterns. Although these images had referents in the real world, their existence on the picture plane was purely abstract and wholly mechanical. Several years later, Wool fabricated rubber stamps from the imagery of his favorite rollers, magnifying the images of flowers and initiating a system of visual noise in the procedural fallout that resulted in the image. Echoing the elegantly ornate curvature of Henri Matisse's blooming botanic cut-outs, Wool's stamps similarly abstract the forms so as to confuse the boundaries between reality and representation. Taking this dislocation of the original source image one step further, Wool concluded the rubber stamp paintings in 1992, and in 1993 began to use the silkscreen with enlargements of flower images derived from the earlier wallpaper rollers and textile design, opening up the potential for greater scale. As exemplified by the present work, Wool also began to experiment with layering images atop each other, resulting in glitches such as skips, stutters, and drips—the outlines of Wool’s screens are clearly delineated on the surface of the present work, overlapping in a discordant grid that impels a heightened surface chaos.
In the sumptuous painterly extravagance of the present work, we are made privy to the schema of procedural omissions or ‘glitches’ that disrupt the ostensibly decorative pattern that it presents. As explained by Ann Goldstein, these paintings from 1993-1995 explored image constructions as simultaneous products of both build-up and erasure: “The banality that one associates with Andy Warhol’s silkscreened flowers is overwhelmed by the grittiness of Wool’s intense and seemingly out-of-control compositions. The first silkscreen works continue the additive process by laying black flower images on top of each other. Wool later introduced white into the works, painting out certain areas, and then silkscreening the black images again, wherein the process that produces the works becomes both additive and reductive.” (Ann Goldstein in Exh. Cat., Los Angeles, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Op. Cit., p. 262) With the silkscreen technique and the floral iconography, Wool inevitably enters into a dialogue with Andy Warhol, both having isolated the emblems of flowers against monochrome grounds and emptying them of meaning in their purely decorative nature. Welcoming the potential for error in his mechanical process of paint application, in Your Sweetness Is My Weakness, Wool revels in the mishaps of dripped paint and slipped outlines: ghostly traces of previous impressions are visible along the outer edges of the composition, while hazy zones of sprayed paint and smeared off-register screens reveal the human error behind the depersonalized formal template.
Wool’s black and white paintings are evocatively multifaceted yet reductive of tradition: heavily influenced by the ‘allover’ compositional strategy of Jackson Pollock; the minimal palette, line, and gesture of Brice Marden; and mediated by Andy Warhol’s integration of mechanical methods. The unity of painting and process is made manifest in the exraordinary Your Sweetness Is My Weakness, where the remit of expression resides in the layering, register, overprinting, and variance of the pigment application. Through cumulative acts of reductionism and recapitulation, Wool has stripped down the essential facets of painting to engender a union of process with picture making. In a progression started with the roller and rubber-stamp paintings, through to the stenciled text pictures and the most recent corpus of silkscreened gestural abstractions, Wool has explored a mutating, visually arresting landscape of seemingly mechanical, cipher-like reductions; coolly detached and emptied of heroic angst.
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