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Christopher Wool

American Painter, Photographer, and Sculptor

Christopher Wool Photo
Movement: Postmodernism

Born: 1955 - Boston, MA

"I think of myself primarily as an abstract painter, but I find that in making paintings there is a little bit of investigation into what abstract painting can be."

Summary of Christopher Wool

Christopher Wool is an enigmatic abstract painter whose formal experimentation and satirical subversion has left him both commercially successful and acclaimed by some critics, whilst condemned as banal or superficial by others. His public persona is reserved, and he carefully monitors the boundary between his personal and private life.

Wool's work is grounded in an investigation of abstract painting through a postmodern repurposing of signs and symbols. Familiar images, including stark black and white patterns, shapes, and particularly words are repeated, manipulated and erased. His most famous works, the 'word paintings', are large canvases silkscreened with phrases that suggest graffiti slogans, lines from movies or tv shows, or other recognizable material. The framing of such works as abstract paintings is designed to question what painting is, how it should be produced, and how an image can incorporate multiple layers of meaning that are revealed by the viewer's attention.

Key Ideas

Wool deploys recognizable or familiar forms (patterns, words or even classic expressionist painting techniques) to question the medium and a viewer's ability to divine meaning from it. By making words seem strange by placing them in a grid system and disrupting their ability to be read, for example, he asks that the viewer sees them as both an abstract shape and as something that conveys direct meaning. This causes the viewer to question their aesthetic attentions and how they perceive the world around them, as well as any formal preconceptions about abstract painting.
Wool's work brings the outside world into the rarified and perhaps remote sphere of abstract art, particularly through his photography. This work is often expressionistic: using focus, perspective, or the frame of the image in creative ways, but taking as its subject the street or city that surrounds him and his studio - grounding his work in everyday life.
Whilst abstract images, his paintings, and particularly the ones which include text, demonstrate influences from other artforms, whether pop cultural allusion or graffiti-esque slogans that evoke narrative. Apocalypse Now (1988), for example, is a formal rendering of a line from Francis Ford Coppola's 1979 film of the same name - 'Sell the House, Sell the Car, Sell the Kids'. This implicitly questions the notion of 'high art' or 'pure expression', suggesting that even abstract painting is informed, influenced and inspired by mass media and everyday encounters.
Wool maintains an air of mystery around his personal life and reveals little about his processes or intention, which relates to his emphasis on individual experience and interpretation. This also echoes other artists and artistic movements, most notably Warhol, who famously claimed that his painting revealed anything a viewer might need to know about him.
Christopher Wool Photo

Christopher Wool was born in Boston in 1955 to Glorye and Ira Wool, a psychiatrist and a molecular biologist. That same year the family moved to the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago, where Wool was brought up alongside his younger brother Jonathon. In 1959, when Wool was four years old, the family moved to Cambridge, England, where they remained for one year before returning to Chicago.

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