Christopher Wool stands at the forefront of contemporary painting today. His incredible career spans over a quarter of a century and is a testament to an artist who has done more than any other during this period to question and redefine the millenarian art of painting. All great artists must deal with the art of the past whilst also creating something radically new. Wool’s first moments of radical innovation in the field of painting came in the years 1986-1988. Stumbling upon a workman in the stairwell of his New York apartment building in the late 1980s, “Wool observed [him] applying this tawdry embellishment to the halls outside of his loft and recalls being fascinated by the considerable challenge of lining up the patterns successfully” (Exh. Cat., New York, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Christopher Wool, 2013, p. 38). The paint rollers the workman was using were available at any hardware store in varying decorative motifs–a common, more economical choice for décor than wallpaper. In this everyday tool Wool recognized a ready-made mechanical means of creation and with a Pop oriented mentality, the possibility of embracing multiplicity in his composition without any inherent meaning or association.
Now known as ‘pattern paintings,' Christopher Wool developed his style away from his early Abstract Expressionist works through the original use of wallpaper rollers in 1986. This seemingly simple innovation in the technique of applying paint to a surface opened up the possibility of mechanical reproduction in painting much the same way that Warhol’s innovation of the silkscreen encouraged production in 1962. Despite the mechanical process employed in Warhol’s screened imagery, inconsistencies due to human error and chance occurrences were unavoidable. Similarly, minor irregularities appear in Endplate 2 (P9) – a slight slip of the roller, drips and varying thicknesses of paint. Herein lies Wool’s genius. He identified a tool that was readily available and ubiquitous in any urban domestic environment and transformed it into a bold new method of making fine art loaded with art historical references. These are readymade organizations of marks that Wool then applies in his own direct and powerful manner. The use of an allover pattern refutes the possibility of the work having an identifiable center and demonstrates Wool’s absorption of the influence of the allover paintings of Pollock and Rothko. Without a center, Wool creates a captivating surface that resists the eye’s desire to rest on a single place and so is spurred into constantly scanning the painting. The element of the decorative in a painting such as Endplate 2 (P9) is a deception. The eye is not allowed to linger in one place or settle on a particular area of interest such is the uniformity, but is locked into contact with the surface and frozen into a numbed stare.
Wool’s pattern paintings exercise an almost shocking power, like real mirrors of existence. John Caldwell explains: “Since the repeated pattern has no inherent meaning and no strong association, we tend to view its variation largely in terms of abstraction, expecting to find in the changes of the pattern some of the meaning we associate with traditional abstract painting” (John Caldwell in ibid., p.185). As is perfectly manifested in Endplate 2 (P9), Wool addresses these concerns by means of reducing both abstraction and figuration to a point from which he may then perpetually return to and intervene with. Wool leaves the viewer to deal with a painting full of associative meanings derived from the readymade recognizable imagery. The alien setting of such imagery in the form of an all over pattern abstracts it. The imperfections imbue the work with fragility, as the seemingly decorative patterns are rendered imperfect, and thus vulnerable. This vulnerability perhaps alludes to the anxiety any painter felt during the late 1980s with the medium of painting repeatedly declared dead by a panoply of art critics. Yet in the hands of Wool as evidenced by Endplate 2 (P9) painting is resurrected and reinvigorated boldly driven to new heights.
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