Confronting the viewer with the violent force of sudden impact, FUCKEM juxtaposes painterly entropy with commanding linguistic force to utterly annihilate presumed boundaries between image and text. Demanding fixed concentration while resisting objective legibility, the rich dark painted enamel letters investigate the limitations of language as descriptive signifiers, achieving a Baroque elegance that undermines their communicative utility. Arranged in five rows of stacked letters, the formality of the grid barely contains the top four words, intensifying their potent graphic power; below, the shorter rows leave ample areas of white surrounding and beneath, compounding the attitude of post-Punk indifference which permeates the painting. As explained by Katherine Brinson: “Wool was less concerned with language as a means to transcend image, or with the problematic conjunction of text and image, than with text as image. He has long been fascinated by the way words function when removed from the quiet authority of the page and exposed to the cacophony of the city, whether through the blaring incantations of billboards and commercial signage or the illicit interventions of graffiti artists. But with their velvety white grounds and stylized letters rendered in dense, sign painter’s enamel that pooled and dripped within the stencils, the word paintings have a resolute material presence that transcends the graphic.” (Katherine Brinson in Exh. Cat., New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (and travelling), Christopher Wool, 2013, p. 40)
Like hastily stenciled graffiti or heralded tabloid headlines, FUCKEM summons the industrial severity of the urban environment; indeed, reveling in the rhythmic intensity of their hard-edged consonants and blunt syllabic brevity, the black letters powerfully evoke the iconic street-poetics of Jean-Michel Basquiat, an artist similarly influenced and inspired by the gutteral, adrenalizing energy of downtown New York in the last decades of the Twentieth Century. There, in the streets and back alleys of Lower Manhattan, both artists assembled and defined their own unique vocabularies. While Basquiat developed an explosive, street-art inspired symbolic vernacular, however, Wool pursued the equally exhilarating possibilities of linguistic abstraction. O’Brien reflects, "Basquiat loved the 'do-it-yourself' bilingual bricolage esthetic of Alphabet City, the district of improvisational bootstrap enterprise. Wool, another far-Eastsider, has a similar romance with the fringe New York, the no man's land, the interzone, the DMZ, and the ruins of concrete jungle. Where Basquiat gleaned pop cues from that world, Wool finds an alphabet of symbolic abstractions.” (Glenn O’Brien, "Apocalypse and Wallpaper," in H. W. Holzwarth, ed., Christopher Wool, Cologne, 2012, pp.10-11) Wool’s subversively truncated words, symmetrically stenciled letters and an industrialized support material—all tangible products of the metropolitan landscape—are here harvested and repurposed within the highest echelons of fine art, challenging preconceived notions of value and meaning with radical dexterity.
Concurrently outrageously provocative and aesthetically seductive, the exceptional painterly virtuosity of the present work distinguishes FUCKEM as a superb exemplar of the artist’s most widely recognized and significant body of paintings. While the execution of the work achieves the perfection of Minimalist reduction, it simultaneously includes overt suggestion of its handmade manufacture, with the irregular outline, smudges and drips heavily in evidence. In this way, Wool interrogates not only accepted theories of meaning, content and artistic authenticity in painting, but also demonstrably exhibits the act of creation, insistently leaving remnants of the process of its making, such as the luscious drips of ink-like paint in the present work, to designate the hand of the artist—here, process rather than content reigns supreme. Speaking about his practice, Wool reflects: "I always considered myself involved with painting. I can't imagine someone seeing one of those and not realizing it's a painting. I think, the way I used text was not didactic. I was not speaking about art, I was just making paintings. The text was more subject than anything else." (Christopher Wool, "Conversation with Christopher Wool," with Martin Prinzhorn, Museum in Progress, 1997) In his investigation of painterly intent and authenticity, Wool brings into play the weighty mantle of Abstract Expressionists, his monochromatic paintings echoing and engaging their fraught legacies as much as it undermines them; as O’Brien notes, “You can’t look at the work of Christopher Wool, or you can’t begin to look at it, without thinking of Jackson Pollock.” (Glenn O’Brien, "Apocalypse and Wallpaper," in H. W. Holzwarth, ed., Christopher Wool, Cologne, 2012, pp.10-11) By obscuring the aesthetic perimeters between the hand-painted and the machine-made, Wool embraces the compromised historical narrative of painting as a primary source, then manipulates that legacy to produce a thrillingly subversive masterpiece. Turning the joke on the viewer, FUCKEM challenges our right to expect anything from art, leveraging the inherent entropy of language to deliver a succinct statement on the larger anarchy of Wool’s painterly enterprise. The specific genius of the artist is, unsurprisingly, best described by O’Brien: “Slowly and surely Christopher Wool has reinvented abstraction and created a radical new way of working that partakes of that clarity and that heroism, but in a way that is shockingly novel and perhaps heretically casual…This is the cool clarity of a later time.” (Glenn O'Brien, Ibid., p. 10)
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