Boston-born artist Christopher Wool explores post-conceptual ideas of the overlap between text and ‘high-art’, cementing his place as one of the leading painters of the contemporary era. If you are looking to buy or sell a Wool original print or edition, browse artwork available from our network and enquire to speak to the team. We offer free and confidential valuations and market advice on any Wool print, with zero obligation to sell.
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Christopher Wool’s art blurs the boundaries between the visual, text and the conceptual. Inspired by the vibrant and ground-breaking graffiti scene of 1980s New York, Wool began to experiment with text during the late 1980s and has since become well-known for both his typographic and abstract works.
Born in Chicago in 1955, Wool moved to New York City at the age of 17, attending Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville. Dropping out before the year had ended, Wool went on to attend the New York Studio School of Drawing, Painting and Sculpture: an educational institution in Greenwich Village known for its fresh, anti-academic stance towards artistic education. There, Wool received instruction from Jack Tworkov and Harry Kramer – two leading Abstract Expressionist painters whose work was inspired by the deconstructive approaches of Cézanne and Matisse.
Wool’s popularity and success have been shaped by his now-iconic word paintings, which he began to create in the late 1980s. Inspired by the stark contrast between the white body panels of trucks and the bold, hard-edged graffiti with which they were often daubed during this period, these works arranged shortened words in a sequence that would have to be read out loud to make sense.
Part of this series, the 1988 painting Apocalypse Now is undoubtedly Wool’s most important work. Referencing Francis Ford Coppola’s eponymous film, and the contents of a letter sent home by an American soldier fighting in the Vietnam War, Wool’s work referenced the catastrophic events of the 1987 stock market crash, Black Monday.
Commenting on the piece, Chief Curator of New York’s New Museum Richard Flood once defined it as "the painting of the year ...a kind of late-eighties mantra."
Similarly, works such as Persuader (1989) and Extremist (1989) see Wool arrange singular yet hard-hitting words onto a single page. ‘Stencilled’ onto the print surface, these works are testament to the influence of Street Art and recall the processes of other artists, such as Banksy or STIK.
In a rare 2014 interview, Wool recalled that exhibiting at the Guggenheim and designing an album cover for American band Sonic Youth had always been at the top of the most meaningful things that could have happened to his career. In 2006, Wool produced the cover design for the band’s 2006 album, 'Rather Ripped'. In 2013, Wool was the subject of a major retrospective exhibition held at the Guggenheim Museum, New York, where he was compared to the likes of Warhol and Basquiat.
Untitled (Riot) © Christopher Wool 1990
The most expensive painting by Wool at auction, Untitled (Riot) sold for US$29.9 million at Sotheby’s in New York on 12 May 2015, over double its US$12 million low estimate. Wool was first inspired to make his word painting in 1987. He was walking in New York’s Lower East Side when he saw a white truck with ‘SEX’ and ‘LUV’ graffitied on its side. The contrast between the words and the white background was a lightbulb moment for the artist, who created his own painted version after returning to his studio. These word paintings are now Wool’s most famous and recognisable artworks.
Apocalypse Now © Christopher Wool 1988
Created in 1988, Apocalypse Now was one of Wool’s earliest word paintings and the first that he publicly exhibited. The text was inspired by a scene from Francis Ford Coppola’s movie Apocalypse Now, as well as the famous Black Monday Wall Street crash a year earlier. “It was an experiment,” Wool said of making and exhibiting Apocalypse Now. “Previously, I had been making abstract paintings, so it was certainly a departure. I was still young and extremely insecure.” His worries stopped when the gallerist Paula Cooper saw the painting and said it reflected her sentiments exactly. “I immediately relaxed,” recalled Wool.
Apocalypse Now sold at Christie’s in New York on 12 November 2013 for US$26.5 million, soaring past its estimate of US$15-20 million.
If You © Christopher Wool 1990
The sale of Wool’s If You at Christie’s in New York on 13 May 2014 followed a very successful year for the artist. In 2013, Wool’s major retrospective exhibition opened at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, establishing him as one of America’s most notable living artists. The sale of Apocalypse Now at Christie’s in November 2013 (no. 2 on this list) also set a new auction record price for Wool. If You, a similarly bold and gritty work, sold for US$23.7 million against a low estimate of US$20 million. Another version of the same phrase sold for a top auction price in 2016.
Untitled © Christopher Wool 1988