Since his emergence as an artist in the 1980s, Christopher Wool has forged an agile, highly focused practice that ranges across processes and mediums, paying special attention to the complexities of painting. Filling the museum’s Frank Lloyd Wright–designed rotunda and an adjacent gallery, the exhibitionChristopher Wool explores the artist’s nuanced engagement with the question of how to make a picture.
Wool was born in 1955 and grew up in Chicago. He moved to New York by the early 1970s, where the anarchic, interdisciplinary energy of the punk and No Wave scenes were a pivotal influence on his creative development. In the subsequent decade, he set out to explore the possibilities of painting at a time when many considered the medium outmoded and irrelevant to avant-garde practice. He made a defining breakthrough between 1986 and ’87 when he began to use paint rollers incised with floral and geometric designs to transfer patterns in severe black enamel to a white ground. Wool focused on the small failures that occurred within this mechanized framework, allowing breakdowns and slippages in the patterns to accrue a delicate emotional resonance.
The silkscreen has been a primary tool for Wool since the 1990s. In his earliest screenprinted paintings, he expanded on the vocabulary of the pattern works, enlarging their stylized floral motifs for use as near-abstract units of composition. In this period, Wool frequently sabotaged his existing forms as a way to covertly generate new ones, layering the flower icons in dense, overlapping configurations that congeal into a single black mass or become obscured with passages of brusque overpainting. He also introduced a new, entirely freehand gesture in the form of a looping line applied with a spray gun—an irreverent interruption of the imagery below that evokes an act of vandalism on a city street.