- Christopher Wool
Patrick Painter, Santa Monica
Sprüth Magers Lee, London
Galerie Art and Public, Geneva
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner in 2003
In 1981 Wool returned to painting after a two-year hiatus, but only fully began to explore the pictorial possibilities of commercial, off-the-shelf motifs with his roller paintings in 1986 and later with his stamp paintings in 1988. The very first paintings with floral motifs were taken from cheap wallpaper rollers, which landlords typically used to cover the walls of the tenements that Wool had experienced whilst living in New York in the ‘70s. Directly inspired by Andy Warhol’s Flower series from 1964, by 1993 Wool was looking to revise the mechanised legacy of Pop art and introduced the silkscreened image into his repertoire. Constantly re-assessing his own work as a source of inspiration, in Untitled (S127) and the other early silkscreen paintings, Wool used large blow-ups of his earlier wallpaper roller flowers for source material. The silkscreen method allowed Wool to alter the original image through the processes of overprinting, layering, slipping and skipping, which gradually gave way to an increasingly dense and complex pictorial field, resulting in a certain grittiness and raw energy that epitomises his silkscreens. By manipulating the integrity of the image the original motifs were stripped of any decorative or symbolic quality, which set his work in direct opposition to the ‘70s pattern painters who had emphatically sought to highlight the decorative elements discredited by Modernism. As critic Bruce Ferguson expands, these paintings “appear iconic or symbolic, but the icon presented is so vague and generic that, upon scrutiny, it immediately withdraws from specific meaning. It’s not simply that the works of Modernism could be absorbed as decoration, these slightly smeared paintings seem to say, but also that any attempt to go beyond the surface – to transcend the specific – is accompanied by foreboding” (Bruce W. Ferguson, ‘Patterns of Intent: Christopher Wool’, Artforum, Vol. 50, No. 1, September 1991, p. 97).
On a formal level, Untitled (S127) addresses the art historical trope of the Modernist grid through the visible network of perpendicular lines formed by the framing edges of the densely layered silkscreens, whilst the ‘readymade’ flower image certainly nods to Duchamp. However, to understand this work most fully we must look to the New York art scene and nowhere more so than in the celebrated painting techniques of the Abstract Expressionists. As seen in the present work, the heady manner in which the gestural brushstrokes and slips of the screens were applied to the aluminium approaches the expressiveness of Willem de Kooning and Jean-Michel Basquiat’s canvases, all wet, visceral and reflective of unconscious desires. As critic Joshua Decter reflects on these early silkscreened works: “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 endeavours to blot out, the more complex things get” (Joshua Decter, ‘Christopher Wool: Luhring Augustine Gallery’, Artforum, No. 34, September 1995, p. 89). In Untitled (S127) Wool embraces and engages with Abstract Expressionism but manipulates it in his own cool, detached post-Pop lexicon, transforming something kitsch into something that is overwhelmingly powerful and primal yet internally reflective and quietly poignant.