Christopher Wool (b. 1955, Boston) is perhaps best known for his paintings of black text on white backgrounds. To make these works, words are stencilled and painted out in block letters and, in the process, they are broken up on the canvas as dimensions dictate without any real regard for spacing or readability. In this way words become formal arrangements, and meaning takes a back seat to abstraction.
Wool has been creating these paintings since the late 1980s. In 1989, soon after he started this iconic series, he created Black Book, an illustrated publication containing 17 bound offset lithographs. The book was published by collector and art advisor Thea Westreich and gallerist Gisela Capitain.
Each lithograph contains a printed word, usually one that is 9 letters long. The chosen words are labels that, as a society, we apply to others:
HYPOCRITE, ASSASSIN, SPOKESMAN, AUTHORITY, ASSISTANT, CELEBRITY, INSOMNIAC, HYPNOTIST, COMEDIAN, TERRORIST, ADVERSARY, PESSIMIST, PRANKSTER, PERSUADER, EXTREMIST, PARANOIAC, CHAMELEON
As whole words these labels suggest the tensions of power structures and conjure up opposing forces, even though only one part of the diametric is stated. At the same time, they are also broken into staccato syllables – for example, the breakdown of ASS-ASS-IN takes a violent word and parses it into near absurdity. It becomes humorous when reduced to its base parts. Other words – INS-OMN-IAC, PRA-NKS-TER, TER-ROR-IST- have their meaning obliterated through dissection. Words are moved away from acting as semantic indicators to become formalist agglomerations of lines.
Only 350 editions of the book were ever produced. They are now a serious collectors' item appearing in prestigious collections, such as MoMA's. However, the book has also become a victim of the strength of the artist’s market, copies have been unbound and divided up for sale, scattering the individual lithographs throughout the market and making full, intact copies of the book increasingly rare.