Christopher Wool on what brought ‘Sunday Painter’ back to life

when. . .when Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum A retrospective of Christopher Wool’s paintings and photographs was organized in 2013, and the artist was found not to be creating new works or researching models for the exhibition a few months earlier.Instead, he was completely evacuated from New York and lives nearby Small Printers in VeronaItaly, spending 12 hours a day on the printing press for two weeks to make sure the books for the exhibition have the exact feel he wants.

“No other artist I’ve worked with has done anything like that for a museum catalog,” said Kathryn Brinson, the exhibition’s curator. “In fact, I’ve never heard of any other artist doing something like this.”

The other day, Wool’s rambling studio in Manhattan’s East Village was half filled with new paintings and other works for a major exhibition. Opening June 2 at the Xavier Hufkens Gallery in Brussels, Wool is eager to showcase some new work, most of which was done during the concentrated period of the last two years of pandemic isolation.But he’s more excited to show something on the table that isn’t quite the show, but then again, in his opinion, not no A work, or—his latest book.

The punk comedy titled ‘Bad Rabbit’ is the fifth in the series Lots of black and white photos of Wool’s expressionless face Articles he has published over the past five years, the project consumes most of his obsessive energy. More than any other major abstract artist of his generation, Wool drew inspiration from his photographs and the books he produced from them—photographs of the world around him, photographs of his own paintings, photographs of other photographs, and Obscure all of the above in a sometimes baroque fashion.

As he entered the later stages of his famous career, he seemed intent on emphasizing that these three endeavors – photography, bookmaking and painting – were inseparable in ways that an art world dominated by his paintings had not yet fully grasped (More recently, it seems, painting is above all else).

“I think all of these are layers of repetition: this is above this, and this is above that,” he said. “These books are also about commemorating a group and bringing them together. Paintings go out into the world alone and are viewed in isolation, but they should also be viewed together, in the way they are made, in series.”

Over the past decade, the reception of Wool’s work, and several of his peers, has been influenced by the stratospheric prices his paintings occupied in the high-priced market in 2015. Piece Sold for Nearly $30 Million at Sotheby’s, even though his auction status has cooled recently as images have taken center stage, major paintings still change hands for millions of dollars. Wool, 67, is mostly dissent about the impact market conspiracies can have on the lives and work of artists, saying tackling the problem inevitably runs the risk of making one sound insincerely ungrateful about success.

But he added: “Sometimes it doesn’t just feel like you’re in a car that you’re not driving. It feels like you’re strapped to the back seat of the car and no one’s even telling you where you’re going.” He said that out of this Reasons and Other Reasons, Pandemic – Him and His Wife, the Painter Charlene von Heyerwho spent most of their time in Marfa, Texas, began living and working on and off in 2007—eventually a pivotal reset.

“I used to joke that I was a Sunday painter because I was so busy with my career that Sunday was the only time I really had time to paint,” he said. “At the beginning of the pandemic, I was really out of control. I was on the treadmill for a long time. Then all of a sudden I felt like I could be an artist again. I just started working.”

Growing up in Chicago, the son of a psychiatrist (his mother) and a molecular biologist (his father), Wool moved to New York in 1973 to attend studio school, and in the late 1980s moved to New York with Neo-Expressionism gave way to more speculative forms of painting in his own school. He has agreed to relatively few interviews over the years, in part because of deep doubts about the ability of language to understand what art does in a way that doesn’t sound ashamed. (His friend, author and musician Richard Hell once did not talk to him, but wrote a magazine article titled “If I were Christopher Wool, what would I say.”)

But during a long afternoon visit to the studio in April, wearing a pearl-buttoned Levis shirt and a long gray ponytail that had grown during the pandemic, he talked warily about himself and his work, explaining the maze Very involved in the making of it.

Part of the solitude in Marfa, he said, was to deepen his recent forays into sculpture, which began with his first trip to West Texas. Walking around the pastures and high desert scrub, he began to clean up the little discarded barbed wire that impressed him like the kind of ready-made 3D doodles he made in 2D. He left some untouched pieces (“I don’t see any way to improve them”). But most of the others he manipulated made fanatical figurines, He expanded several of them over the years By casting them and producing them in bronze and copper-plated steel.

The next necessary shift in thinking about sculpture, he says, is to photograph it and make a book. “Bad Rabbit” — whose name was inspired by the cunning Jake Rabbit and Wool’s memory of the CIA operating under that name — is made up of just 92 high-contrast, expressionless miniatures Composed of wire sculptures, they are placed on the rough wooden floor of an old Marfa house, straight and low, as if from the vantage point of a passing rat.

For any critic (and there are a few) who complain that Wool’s work is too cold and underwhelming, LA Times critic Christopher Knight It was once called “unsolvable dullness”, Sculpture pictures might solve the case. But, if only through sheer OCD, the book clearly articulates the arc of what is now quite a large Wool involvement in photography, as itself and as a catalyst for the rest of his work, a process reminiscent of which EM Forster once quoted The riddle about writing: “How can I say what I think before I see what I say?”

In 1993, Wool published his first book of photography, “Unexcused Absence” The graininess of urban scenes shot in Europe and other places he traveled was so obscured by the photocopier that it was almost illegible.

Ten years later, followed by “East Broadway Crash”, Walking between his studio and his home in Chinatown from 1994 to 1995, Wool took thousands of mostly unmanned photographs of the streets of the Lower East Side and the surrounding area from 1994 to 1995. selected from the photo. In their seemingly abject and casual circumstances, they show a close relationship with post-war Japanese photography. But they have a lot of character, showing Wool’s vision of New York City in the 1990s—spills, stains, black trash bags, dazzling headlights, wire fences, graffiti scribbles, stencils—in this painting how profound.

“Chicago where I grew up had some of these looks, but New York, especially at that time, was just a gritty place, and I was interested in it all visually,” he said.

Curator Anne Pontégnie, who organized the Brussels exhibition and first exhibited Wool’s photographs extensively alongside his paintings in 2002, told me: “In the more than 30 years I have known him, I have discovered photography at all levels. What to do. His abstractions were never purely formal. It was an abstraction that told a great deal about his life.”

She added: “I think his love of books did two things. It opened a greater distance between making art and seeing it; every gesture was highly processed. It was also something he controlled himself. A way of doing things and maintaining a certain sense of ownership. Books are a very democratic way for works to circulate in a world outside the market.”

Leo Fitzpatrick, runner Gallery public access A recent exhibit on Henry Street on the Lower East Side featured dozens of photographs from “East Broadway Crash,” which were displayed not as prints, but as book pages; Fitzpatrick only carefully dismembered the book Copies of the book and pinning the pages to the wall, which he said he thought was an ideal way to display the work.

“To me, his photography always seems to have influenced a lot of people who followed him, young photographers who probably didn’t get much attention in the ’90s, snow rush For example,” said Fitzpatrick, referring to the American artist who died in 2009. “I think his pictures are unique.

Hell, whose music and work with TV Band, The Heartbreakers and Richard Hell and the Void helped define a pivotal era in the aesthetic life of downtown New York, he argues that Wool’s photographs of the city accomplish more than just document Streets and raw materials for painting.

“I don’t think those streets before Christopher looked like that,” said Hull, who co-authored a book in 2008. “psychologist,” with wool. “What he got was everything we found, consciously or unconsciously, ignored or even despised and edited. It was through his photos that we realized that, and what we think now.”

Since starting to spend most of his time in the open spaces of West Texas, Wool has had to change his main urban aesthetic appeal. But in a sense, he just took those charms to different terrains and went further, photographing landscapes and what humans do in them: piles of scrap tires, cinder blocks, scrapped cars, weeds Overgrown and plastic patio furniture, and a particularly lonely cow and a tumbleweed tumbled across the rain-drenched street from behind.

“I don’t know where I’m going with the sculpture next,” he said. “I mean, I’ve fished out pretty much every wire I could possibly find in West Texas. It probably won’t keep giving me new ideas, so maybe I’ll have to start working in a whole new way .”

But a vein will continue to be mined at bewildering depths. Looking at the brand new works in his studio, consisting of zigzagging oil paintings Wool created directly on the pages of old books, which themselves feature abstract images that are already complex, he smiles: “Now I have to shoot these, And then do another book – of course.”

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