Christopher Wool ( American, 1955 )

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General Description

Composed of stenciled letters broken arbitrarily, Christopher Wool's Untitled plays on the use of words and letters to create a sense of disorder and chaos, not only through what they say, but in the way they are arranged on the canvas. Because Wool's words are not readily decipherable, the viewer experiences a sense of confusion, eventually accepting the words as an abstract collection of letters. The text is further distanced from us by its disregard for traditional hyphenation and grammar. This exacting painting tests perception as well as analysis, making us aware of how difficult it can be to understand even something as familiar as our own language. Once decoded, however, it packs an ironic, even darkly humorous, punch. This "text painting" is quoted from a definition of nihilism in Raoul Vaneigem's 1967 The Revolution of Everyday Life.

Wool was inspired to create his text paintings after seeing black graffiti scrawled on a white van outside his studio. Struck by the effect of this simple gesture, he began making words the content of his work. Unevenly spaced and awkwardly arranged according to the limits of the canvas, the stenciled letters read as both an image and a broken narrative.

From the inception of his career in the 1980s, Wool has created a major body of work that fearlessly interrogates the mechanics of how we read and, perhaps more often, misread the world around us via language, pattern, and symbol. Filtered through the painting traditions of American abstract expressionism, the power of black on white signs found in urban streetscapes, and the improvisational anarchy of avant-garde cultural movements both historical and recent, Wool's work has made a major contribution to contemporary art practice and our understanding of what painting can achieve in the present day.

Adapted from

Charles Wylie, Label text, Re-Seeing the Contemporary: Selected from the Collection, 2010.

Web Resources

  • Guggenheim
    Read more about Christopher Wool's text paintings.