Executed in a captivating and intensely blue palette, Christopher Wool’s Untitled (D387) is a superb example of the artist’s iconic visual vocabulary in which fluid washes of paint and urgent expressionist mark-making form lyrically rhythmic patterns of abstract imagery. The chromatic vibrancy of the present work is exceptionally rare since the vast majority of Wool’s silkscreens are black and white, with colour only occasionally applied on top of a greyscale background. The uninterrupted use of blue silkscreen ink for the spectacularly rich and dynamic composition of Untitled (D387) makes it not only a characteristically intelligent response to the possibilities of painting, but a visually intriguing testimony to the revered practice of one of the most important contemporary painters.
When Christopher Wool first started to exhibit his work in the early 1980s, Douglas Crimp had declared not only the death of painting, but had also attacked notions of authorship and originality. More definitively than any other artist of his time, Wool has over the past decades resolved these two crucial questions of postmodernism into a practice that has pushed our understanding of painting into a fundamentally different direction. Together with Albert Oehlen and Martin Kippenberger, Wool challenged the status of painting from within, initially by appropriating decorative interior patterns and later by subverting and mediating painting through the use of silkscreens. As Marga Paz observed: "We are confronted with work that deals with the possibilities and mechanisms that keep painting alive and valid in the present, an issue that, despite all forecasts, is one of the most productive and complex issues in contemporary visual art" (Exhibition Catalogue, Valencià, IVAM Institut Valencià d'Art Modern, Christopher Wool, 2006, p. 200).
Using silkscreens to recycle elements of his previous paintings into new work, the artist’s newfound mode of self-appropriation cleverly undermines the modernist myths of authorship and originality through the use of a medium that is in many ways contradictory to the artistic language it refers to. Whilst Wool’s practice is decidedly painterly, and Untitled (D387) indeed refers to expressive abstract painting, the work is produced with a mechanically reproducible medium that undermines the directness of gestural painting. Whereas abstract expressionism was understood as a direct representation of the artist’s inner world based on an indexical relationship between the artist and his work, the mediated silkscreen undermines the promise of such a direct connection, instead transforming it into a predominantly visual and formal language. The seemingly intuitive and gestural ciphers of Untitled (D387) indeed invoke the vigorous mark-making of Jackson Pollock or Cy Twombly, whose formal and visual vocabulary Wool has consciously chosen to pursue. His silkscreened images represent the remnants of this expressionism in an age of mechanical reproduction, where gestural painting is no longer seen as an indexical link between the artist and his work, but has become a mere signifier for an expressive artistic language that is devoid of real emotion. “Wool has intuitively developed a reappropriation of his own works, which, by superimposing a series of layers he constructs an abstraction that looks gestural and eminently pictorial but is really a way of demolishing Abstract Expressionism’s concept of pictorial expressiveness” (Marga Paz, Op. cit., p. 202).
Not unlike Andy Warhol’s use of repetitive silkscreens to expose the effects of mass-media in his famous Death and Disaster series, Wool’s self-appropriated images confront us with the complicated status of images in an age of mechanical reproduction. With its rare blue colour, Untitled (D387) further evokes Warhol’s Reversals and Retrospectives, in which earlier bodies of work were revisited through new chromatic palettes. Elaborating on the work of these giants of post-war art-history, Christopher Wool brilliantly resolves the seemingly opposite strategies of Pop appropriation and the language of abstract expressionism into an authoritative practice that has redefined the relevance and possibilities of painting in a postmodern era. In Glenn O’Brien’s words, the artist “embraces and engages action painting as his primary source and then he manipulates it, with the cool reflection of a pop artist or Dada collagist, creating art that is both intense and reflective, physical and mechanical, unconscious and considered, refined and reddant of street vernacular, both high and low” (Glenn O’Brien, ‘Apocalypse and Wallpaper’, Wool, Cologne 2012, p.8).