Christopher Wool's Untitled presents a visually arresting panoply of signifiers and found decorative motifs, realized on a large-scale aluminum panel in stark black and white. The work radiates, with its layers of half-meditated, half-improvised patterning, including flowers, fleurs-de-lis, hatchings, undulating lines as well as zeroes and crosses reminiscent of tic-tac-toe. The painting's surface reveals the energetic process of its facture, riddled with white pentimenti and the inky remnants of Wool's screening process. The aluminum pane is roughly bisected across its middle, traced with the outline of the many frames used to create its composition. Wool approximately replicated the patterns in either segment, creating a dizzying double image. Through this process, he invokes the multiple legacies of American Post-War painterly abstraction, Pop Art, and Minimalism, consciously addressing the challenges that face contemporary image making. As Bruce W. Ferguson has suggested, "Wool accepts that he is and that his paintings are, at any moment, within what Richard Prince calls 'wild history,' subject to the intertextual meeting of various discourses" (B. Ferguson, quoted in A. Goldstein, "What they're not: The Paintings of Christopher Wool" in A. Goldstein (ed.), Christopher Wool, exh. cat., Los Angeles, 1992, p. 256).
Christopher Wool has consistently drawn his practice from its temporal context, developing in dialogue with his artistic contemporaries. Beginning in the 1980s, Wool interacted with diverse artists including Robert Gober, Philip Taafe, Albert Oehlen, Martin Kippenberger and Mike Kelley, all of whom emerged alongside him in that dynamic decade. In particular, Post-Minimalist process artists such as Richard Serra impressed Wool. Serra's sculptures incorporate thrown lead, which deeply informed Wool's approach to obscuring and patterning as displayed in Untitled.
While Wool incorporated semi-figurative elements in his early works, he had already restricted himself to a limited color palette of red, black and white. Painting's properties and application process palpably captivated him more than its content did. This predilection is abundantly clear in Untitled. Indeed as the artist once professed, "I became more interested in 'how to paint it' than 'what to paint'" (C. Wool, quoted in A. Goldstein, 17 October 2007, in Ibid., p.258).
As Wool's practice evolved over time, Jackson Pollock increasingly influenced him, as Wool articulated in his series of "silver" paintings and "drip" paintings. It was Pollock and Abstract Expressionism's attachment to covering the full extent of the canvas that prompted Wool's use of generic stenciled rollers, celebrating, amongst other things, banal images of flowers and dots. Wool's use of rollers was a seminal step that brought his technique closer to Andy Warhol's 1960s silkscreen paintings. Like Warhol, Wool embraced mechanical reproduction in his picture making process, repeating decorative elements but without inherent meaning or associations.
In 1987, Wool started using stenciled words and rubber stamps, adding them to his stable of effects, broadening his imagery from the rollers' ready-made imprints. From 1992, Wool stopped using rollers and rubber stamps but continued to employ their specific effects through Warhol's favored medium, screen-printing. In Untitled, Wool derived the multiple floral motifs he employed from blow-ups of his earlier rollers and stencil designs. Visually they recall the dramatic floral motifs of Henri Matisse's Interior with Eggplants and they also draw on the technical virtuosity of Andy Warhol's silkscreen Flowers, installed in multiples at the Leo Castelli Gallery in 1964. Wool's new paintings, such as Untitled, developed a more hierarchical structure, in contrast to his previous systematic compositions. Wool centralized his composition, drawing it away from the surface's edges, splitting it into two horizontal sections like frames of film (Christopher Wool exh. cat., Los Angeles, 1992, p.262).
Wool invokes - through overprinting, clogging and silkscreen slippage - a unique grittiness and intensity less prevalent in Warhol's paintings. As Ann Goldstein has described, the rectilinear traces of the silkscreen frames act "like a disembodied picture of a picture, they frame a painting within a painting" (A. Goldstein, quoted in Ibid.). In Untitled, Wool also embraces pentimenti, engaging with erasure by using white semi-opaque paint. The work becomes a complex field of decorative elements partially obscured, yet rendered more intriguing. Wool draws the spectator increasingly to the possibilities of what might be represented underneath, rather than on top of, the painterly smoke screen. Untitled appears - through the myriads of patterns, lines and shapes - to have developed its own vernacular or hieroglyphic system, drawing parallels with the word paintings Wool began in 1987. Both the text paintings and Untitled share an interest in layering, but for Untitled it is not a question of meaning but of process, successively building up and unbuilding its composition.
In Untitled, Wool boldly addresses the conflicts inherent to contemporary image-making, affirming his continued belief in the medium. Through specifically engaging with the history of Post-War American Art, he registers Pop Art's methods of mechanized production, Minimalism's emphatic denial of the author and painterly abstraction's privileging of form over content. In Untitled, Wools embraces all of these paradigms - uniting the abstract and figurative, painting and print, picture and process - to explore the boundaries of contemporary painting.