Arts Curriculum

Gesture and Erasure

If you’re not fearless about changes, then you won’t progress.14

 

Gesture and Erasure

Last Year Halloween Fell on a Weekend, 2004. Enamel and silkscreen ink on linen, 264.2 x 198.1 cm. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery, New York

In 1998, Christopher Wool began to use his own paintings as the starting point for new autonomous works. The method was relatively simple. He used an image of one of his finished paintings to create a silkscreen. Then he applied this silkscreen to a new canvas. He also painted extra layers on top of his silkscreens. With Last Year Halloween Fell on a Weekend (2004), for instance, he applied a layer of scarlet spray paint to the silkscreened gray forms of Run Down Run (2003).

These new paintings brought up many theoretical questions. Can an image that depicts a previous artwork be considered abstract, or is it representational? Is there a hierarchy between an original and a copy if, as in this case, the copy is considered a new and original artwork?

In 2000, Wool discovered another new process. He was working with a sprayed composition of yellow enamel when he became frustrated, picked up a rag soaked in turpentine, and wiped away the lines using rapid gestures. He then began to experiment with this technique with black enamel, leading to a body of work he refers to as his “gray paintings.” He alternated this act of erasing with the act of “drawing” (Wool considers spray-painting closer to drawing than painting). On these new canvases, black lines were swallowed in layers of gray erasure and then complicated by further layers of lines. Addition was as important as subtraction. Wool described this process of making work in four words: change, doubt, indecisiveness, and poetry. The works have been described as an argument he was having with himself—a constant interplay of concession and rebuttal. Wool has said that, “the traditional idea of an objective masterpiece is no longer possible,” and “without objectivity you’re left with doubt, and doubt insists on plurality.”15

14. Interviewmagazine.com/art/christopher-wool-richardhell/ page2.

15. Christopher Wool, conversation with Katherine Brinson.

Christopher Wool

Last Year Halloween Fell on a Weekend, 2004. Enamel and silkscreen ink on linen, 264.2 x 198.1 cm. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery, New York

Christopher Wool

Run Down Run, 2003. Enamel on linen, 243.8 x 182.9 cm. Private collection, Los Angeles

Christopher Wool

Untitled, 2007. Enamel on linen, 274.3 x 274.3 cm. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Nina and Gordon Bunshaft Bequest Fund, 2010

 

Show: Last Year Halloween Fell on a Weekend (2004)

  • Look together at the painting. Ask students what they notice. Now, compare it to Run Down Run (2003).
  • Tell students that the former piece was made by creating a silkscreen, or print, of the latter and then spray-painting another layer on top. The exhibition’s curator has described Wool’s silkscreens as “portraits” of his paintings. She writes that, “they delineate an interior as well as an exterior likeness, as if drilling down into the subconscious of the original.”16 Ask students to consider this idea. Can you make a “portrait” of a painting? How might it reveal something about the “subconscious” or “interior” of the original painting?
  • Now, share four words with your students: change, doubt, indecisiveness, and poetry. Ask them to discuss when they have had experiences that call to mind these words.
  • Look together at Untitled (2007). Wool has described the process of making paintings like this one with the words above. Ask students where they see evidence of these words in the painting.
  • To create this piece, Wool used turpentinesoaked rags to “erase” the black enamel lines he had sprayed onto the canvas. He then added more layers of spray paint. Have you ever revised something you created? What emotions did you feel during this process?
  • Works like Untitled (2007) have been described as an argument Wool was having with himself—a constant interplay of concession and rebuttal. Ask students to put this argument into words.

16. Brinson, “Trouble Is My Business,” p. 47.

Last Year Halloween Fell on a Weekend, 2004. Enamel and silkscreen ink on linen, 264.2 x 198.1 cm. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery, New York
Run Down Run, 2003. Enamel on linen, 243.8 x 182.9 cm. Private collection, Los Angeles
Untitled, 2007. Enamel on linen, 274.3 x 274.3 cm. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Nina and Gordon Bunshaft Bequest Fund, 2010


  • Wool made new paintings based on old paintings using a silkscreen process. For this activity, students will approximate this process using a photocopier, another tool Wool has used in his work. Have students create an abstract black-and-white drawing. Then make a photocopy of each of the students’ works at the same scale. Ask them to compare the results. How has the act of photocopying changed their original? Next, allow them to add another layer to the photocopy version of their drawing with the same material they used for the original or with additional materials. (You can continue the process a couple times by photocopying this new version if you’d like.) Ask students to reflect on the process. Would they consider their copied version an original or a copy? Would they consider it a “portrait” of their original drawing? What does it reveal about the drawing that the first version didn’t?
    Visual Arts
  • Wool’s erasure paintings are just as much about addition as they are about subtraction. For this activity, provide students with drawing materials, such as pencils and charcoal, and erasing materials, such as erasers and blending stumps. Ask them to experiment with creating an abstract line drawing, then erasing sections of it (or all of it), then adding more lines. Do they ever erase all evidence of the drawing? How does their drawing reveal evidence of their process? You might want to play students this video of Wool describing his process: youtube.com/watch?v=6RD3K6aBLQ0
    Drawing
    Visual Arts
  • Some of Wool’s works have been described as an argument he is having with himself. When he eliminates elements of his paintings and then adds new ones, he is constantly conceding to and rebutting his own points. For this activity, students will “have an argument with themselves” as they write a poem. Ask them to first free-write about what they think when they look at the works in this section. Emphasize that this is a free-write so anything that comes to mind is acceptable. They should not edit themselves. Then, ask them to look back at their writing and circle words or phrases they like and cross out words or phrases they don’t like. Next, they should transcribe each word or phrase they like separately on a Post-it® and arrange these Post-its® to form a poem. They also can add a couple new words or phrases to the mix. Ask them: How did this process differ from writing a poem from scratch?
    English Language Arts