Sometimes I close my eyes
interview by GLENN O’BRIEN
portrait by TERRY RICHARDSON
THE PAINTINGS OF CHRISTOPHER WOOL combine everything we’ve ever liked: situationism, hard-edge, expressionism, rock, grafitti art, typography, stenciling, street argot, and Warhol’s serial glamour. He is interviewed by writer and New York personality, Glenn O’Brien, who asks Wool about his personal taste on everything from Pizza to Pollock.
GLENN O BRIEN — How do you begin, with blank canvas? Paper?
CHRISTOPHER WOOL — Sometimes I close my eyes. For me starting is easy and finishing difficult.
GLENN O BRIEN — What does the song “Wooly Bully” mean? Do you know what a “rilly” is?
CHRISTOPHER WOOL — It’s like a “mook”… Who knows….
GLENN O BRIEN — Do the word paintings have anything to do with Abracadabra?
CHRISTOPHER WOOL — Not that I know of.
GLENN O BRIEN — Is graffiti art any good? Was it ever? Should it be illegal or paid for?
CHRISTOPHER WOOL — Grafitti’s not what it used to be…and maybe it never was. But one of my favorite paintings, also a great influence, was Olivier Mosset’s collaboration with Fab 5 Freddy, an orange monochrome by Mosset that Freddy “poeticized” in blue spray the words, “knee cap… art pimps…. no image….”
GLENN O BRIEN — Is the hand of God or gods visible in the random?
CHRISTOPHER WOOL — Yes, but with a small g….or is the hand of god invisible?
GLENN O BRIEN — Do you believe in the communion of the saints, or in artists and writers inhabiting some common psychic place in dreamland or elsewhere?
CHRISTOPHER WOOL — Not a chance.
GLENN O BRIEN — What is it about East Broadway?
CHRISTOPHER WOOL — I lived on East Broadway for 25 years…“It’s Chinatown, Jake.”
GLENN O BRIEN — Rock and roll or funk?
CHRISTOPHER WOOL — Funk or jazz? This is for me the ultimate artistic question. Cassavettes or Godard, Soutine or Matisse, James Brown or Ornette Coleman? I think it was Ornette who said that Jimi Hendrix’s playing of “The Star Spangled Banner” was his favorite jazz solo.
GLENN O BRIEN — Was Pollock the end or just getting warmed up?
CHRISTOPHER WOOL — He’d barely started. His late black paintings are actually my favorites—completely underappreciated. It’s idiotic that they are seen as “figurative,” thus retrograde. Critics—who needs them? And you can’t kill them.
GLENN O BRIEN — Are the Asians coming?
CHRISTOPHER WOOL — Great free jazz from the 70s—Hideki Matsui, Keiji Haino, The Boredoms, Yao Ming.
GLENN O BRIEN — Favorite titles?
CHRISTOPHER WOOL — Sonny Rollins’ “East Broadway Run Down,” Beegees’ “Smiles for the Camera,” Albert Oehlen’s “My Mother Was a Friend of an Enemy of the People”, The Doors’ “The End”…
GLENN O BRIEN — Favorite Richard Prince joke?
CHRISTOPHER WOOL — “I must be in the wrong joke.”
GLENN O BRIEN — What is it about the Germans?
CHRISTOPHER WOOL — Someone said they’re either at your feet or at your throat, but I’m married to one. Sounds like a Richard Prince joke.
GLENN O BRIEN — Ever read Rammellzee’s Treatise on Iconoklastic Panzerism?
CHRISTOPHER WOOL — 25 years ago. I’m not sure I understood it. But his hip-hop gem “Beat Bop” has got to be one of the greatest songs of all time.
GLENN O BRIEN — Is black and white red all over?
CHRISTOPHER WOOL — Good question.
GLENN O BRIEN — Midnight blue tuxes were made because under artificial light they looked blacker than black? Is your blue black? Is your work for natural light or artificial or both?
CHRISTOPHER WOOL — I don’t know but it’s almost impossible to reproduce my work.
GLENN O BRIEN — Mets or Yankees?
CHRISTOPHER WOOL — I’ve kicked my sports monkey. James Dolan and Isaiah Thomas are like opiate blockers.
GLENN O BRIEN — Is art all offense or is there defense?
CHRISTOPHER WOOL — It’s subjective.
GLENN O BRIEN — When the guys beat up Dan Rather, did they mean “What’s the frequency Kenneth?”
CHRISTOPHER WOOL — I don’t know, but they should have also asked “What’s a mook?”
GLENN O BRIEN — What books are important? Brian Gysin? William Burroughs?
CHRISTOPHER WOOL — Adult comedy action drama, psychobuildings.
GLENN O BRIEN — Was surrealist automatism bullshit?
CHRISTOPHER WOOL — Are you kidding? Of course not. How did surrealism fall into such disrepute while we’re force-fed warmed over conceptualism? It’s actually interesting how many different contemporary artists manifest surrealist influences—Albert Oehlen, Bob Gober, Jeff Koons…
GLENN O BRIEN — What influences your hand?
CHRISTOPHER WOOL — My eye. It’s all in the eye. Muhammad Ali said “the hand can’t hit what the eye can’t see.”
GLENN O BRIEN — Could a children do it?
CHRISTOPHER WOOL — Maybe, but why would they?
GLENN O BRIEN — Is Pollock that much better than Joan Mitchell, or Mike Goldberg when he was on?
CHRISTOPHER WOOL — Yeah.
GLENN O BRIEN — Was Pollock’s car crash a good career move?
CHRISTOPHER WOOL — Maybe, but look where it got him.
GLENN O BRIEN — What about Poons?
CHRISTOPHER WOOL — Poons was very important to me when I was younger. I studied with Jack Tworkov when I was 17, and he explained to me what Poon’s dot paintings were all about and how they worked optically. I still love those paintings.
GLENN O BRIEN — Warhol said that the abstract expressionists had problems because they were too introspective. Are you introspective?
CHRISTOPHER WOOL — I know what he meant. I think he objected to both the tendency toward formalism and the spiritual. I’d agree but look to something other than extroverted expressionism. Actually Poons said something good that relates to art’s ism’s. When asked if he considered himself a pop artist or a minimalist, he said pop because they threw better parties.
GLENN O BRIEN — What’s your favorite Warhol?
CHRISTOPHER WOOL — If I had to choose one it would be his film, Poor Little Rich Girl. The simplicity of the two reels, with one out of focus, still blows my mind. When they shot the first reel they forgot to focus. The sound is fine so you hear Edie Sedgwick’s voice, but the picture is totally blurred. When the film cuts to the second reel you suddenly see the set and Edie for the first time. It’s an hour of her talking on the phone about the night before’s parties while she paints her toe nails.
GLENN O BRIEN — What do you like about Julian Schnabel’s work?
CHRISTOPHER WOOL — I loved the last show, “New Indian Paintings,” and the abstract paintings on velvet were great.
GLENN O BRIEN — Krylon or Rustoleum?
CHRISTOPHER WOOL — I mix my own.
GLENN O BRIEN — How do you use the camera? In studio and out? Is your photography connected to the painting? What’s the mechanical process in the paintings?
CHRISTOPHER WOOL — All of the above.
GLENN O BRIEN — Do you like bad production values?
CHRISTOPHER WOOL — I’m not against them, but it’s actually a non-issue.
GLENN O BRIEN — Is using a roller or a stencil like Matthew Barney’s “drawing restraint” concept?
CHRISTOPHER WOOL — Maybe, but probably not.
GLENN O BRIEN — What’s your favorite color?
CHRISTOPHER WOOL — Don’t have one.
GLENN O BRIEN — How’s your basketball game?
CHRISTOPHER WOOL — I retired and took up rock climbing. But I still dream I’m dunking the ball.
GLENN O BRIEN — Were you ever in a punk band? If not, why not? What were your favorite art bands?
CHRISTOPHER WOOL — I hate the term art band. One of the best concerts I ever heard was in 1978: Teenage Jesus and the Jerks versus The Contortions in a battle of the bands in a basement on Eighth Street. I think the greatest art band of all time was The Art Ensemble of Chicago. I was 12 years old the first time I heard them. I grew up in Hyde Park, and someone who worked with my father took our family to hear them. The performance was in a local community center and there couldn’t have been more than 20 people there.
GLENN O BRIEN — Are you pro pagan?
CHRISTOPHER WOOL — No.
GLENN O BRIEN — Are you high tech?
CHRISTOPHER WOOL — High and low.
GLENN O BRIEN — Are there anything remaining of the Midwest in you?
CHRISTOPHER WOOL — Not much.
GLENN O BRIEN — Does irony still work? Are you ironic?
CHRISTOPHER WOOL — A difficult and dangerous question. Let’s not get into it.
GLENN O BRIEN — How many types of ambiguity are there?
CHRISTOPHER WOOL — I lost count.
GLENN O BRIEN — Is your interest in the underground film thing a hobby, or do you have ambitions to make films?
CHRISTOPHER WOOL — After seeing the new cinema films in the late 70s—Kidnapped, Men in Orbit, Rome 78—I decided I wanted to make movies, so I went briefly to NYU film school, but I gave up and went back to painting.
GLENN O BRIEN — An English art student poll on the most influential artists had you tied for 27th with Pollock, Rauschenberg, Goya, Manet, James Turrell, Gillian Wearing and Rachel Whiteread. Do you have anything in common with them? Do you think Marcel Duchamp is number one?
CHRISTOPHER WOOL — What can I say? Marcel Duchamp wouldn’t be number one on my list. It’s symptomatic, this obsession with Duchamp has given us 20 years of conceptual sludge.
GLENN O BRIEN — What art looks good to you now?
CHRISTOPHER WOOL — Titian.
GLENN O BRIEN — What art always looked good?
CHRISTOPHER WOOL — Titian.
GLENN O BRIEN — Richard Prince, who has taken up life drawing, was saying he’d like to see you put a figure in the middle one of your abstract paintings?
CHRISTOPHER WOOL — Actually there are figures in the middle of my abstract paintings. But years ago Richard and I did a couple collaborative paintings and I’ve tried to convince him to try it again…so maybe this is promising.
GLENN O BRIEN — Is your work Halal?
CHRISTOPHER WOOL — Probably not.
GLENN O BRIEN — Do you really mix the spray paint?
CHRISTOPHER WOOL — Yes. I use a compressor and spray gun.
GLENN O BRIEN — What did Rorschach know? What didn’t he know?
CHRISTOPHER WOOL — The mind is in the eye.
GLENN O BRIEN — Is pink the navy blue of India?
CHRISTOPHER WOOL — Sounds like a fashion issue. I’m a fashion illiterate.
GLENN O BRIEN — Is brown the new black.
CHRISTOPHER WOOL — Definitely, and that’s not a fashion issue.
GLENN O BRIEN — Erasure: Is it about less is more? Decisiveness? Liberty? A nice cleaned up look? Another kind of surface?
CHRISTOPHER WOOL — It’s not about less or surface. It’s about change, doubt, indecisiveness, and poetry.
GLENN O BRIEN — Is it realism?
CHRISTOPHER WOOL — Yes, but not like you think.
GLENN O BRIEN — Against nature?
CHRISTOPHER WOOL — Maybe.
GLENN O BRIEN — Landscape?
CHRISTOPHER WOOL — No. The figure, yes. Landscape, no.
GLENN O BRIEN — Dave Hickey talked about Warhol getting it exactly wrong. Does that resonate with you?
CHRISTOPHER WOOL — Dave Hickey almost always gets it exactly wrong.
GLENN O BRIEN — Out of register? Out of our heads?
CHRISTOPHER WOOL — Out of line.
GLENN O BRIEN — Does the line have a mind of its own? Is it avoiding the edge or in orbit?
CHRISTOPHER WOOL — The mind has a line of its own.
GLENN O BRIEN — Drop or throw?
CHRISTOPHER WOOL — Cut and run.
GLENN O BRIEN — Did Coltrane go too far?
CHRISTOPHER WOOL — When it comes to music and art, nothing is too far…and only death stopped him from going further than we can imagine.
GLENN O BRIEN — Who do you think you are?
CHRISTOPHER WOOL — Honestly, I try not to think about it.
GLENN O BRIEN — What’s your problem?
CHRISTOPHER WOOL — What’s yours?
GLENN O BRIEN — Is that all there is?
CHRISTOPHER WOOL — I feel like I’m just getting started.
GLENN O BRIEN — Do you ever wear a tie?
CHRISTOPHER WOOL — Not if I can help it. And I usually can.
GLENN O BRIEN — Boxers or briefs?
CHRISTOPHER WOOL — Boxers. Even if I wore briefs, which I don’t, I wouldn’t admit it.
GLENN O BRIEN — What do women want?
CHRISTOPHER WOOL — Mostly the same as men, I guess.
GLENN O BRIEN — Neil Jenney says abstract paintings need a frame.
CHRISTOPHER WOOL — Neil Jenney is a genius.
GLENN O BRIEN — Are there too many white walls?
CHRISTOPHER WOOL — Too many paintings.
GLENN O BRIEN — Do you dream in color?
CHRISTOPHER WOOL — I don’t think so.
GLENN O BRIEN — Were you into comic books?
CHRISTOPHER WOOL — No.
GLENN O BRIEN — On the pizza, what?
CHRISTOPHER WOOL — I’m into the classics. No pineapple.
GLENN O BRIEN — Do you wear green on St. Patrick’s day.
CHRISTOPHER WOOL — No, I can’t drink like that anymore.
GLENN O BRIEN — What colors clash?
CHRISTOPHER WOOL — I’m not an authority on color.
GLENN O BRIEN — Did you ever see Frank Sinatra’s paintings?
CHRISTOPHER WOOL — Only in reproduction. They’re pretty great. Kippenberger loved them. I thought the Miles Davis painting at the Whitney was interesting.
GLENN O BRIEN — What CDs are close at hand?
CHRISTOPHER WOOL — Cecil Taylor, Archie Shepp, The No Neck Blues Band…
GLENN O BRIEN — DVDs?
CHRISTOPHER WOOL — Not in the studio.
GLENN O BRIEN — Are you a bird watcher?
CHRISTOPHER WOOL — No. Though last year I saw a giant falcon sitting on my window sill eating a pigeon.
GLENN O BRIEN — Do you work only at one thing at a time?
CHRISTOPHER WOOL — In general the more the better, but there are no rules.
GLENN O BRIEN — Paint with music on?
CHRISTOPHER WOOL — Always. So I don’t hear the phone ring.
GLENN O BRIEN — When is it finished?
CHRISTOPHER WOOL — When you least expect it. Of course looking for “when you least expect it” makes it almost impossible to find.
GLENN O BRIEN — Do you fix mistakes or abort?
CHRISTOPHER WOOL — I’m trying to learn to accept mistakes, but I usually abort.
GLENN O BRIEN — Do you paint alone, or with assistants? Kibbitzers ever allowed?
CHRISTOPHER WOOL — I prefer to paint alone, but I’ll ask any one’s opinion. I like to know what people see. But in the end I don’t listen and I always make my own decisions.
GLENN O BRIEN — Do you prefer having your consciousness expanded or contracted?
CHRISTOPHER WOOL — I’ve had enough consciousness expanding, it never worked for me. I think my consciousness is a fixed size.
GLENN O BRIEN — Can you hear the difference between digital and analog?
CHRISTOPHER WOOL — I certainly can see the difference between digital and film. I love film but shoot digital.
GLENN O BRIEN — “When the truth is found to be lies, and all the joy within you dies, don’t you want somebody to love? Don’t you need somebody to love?” (Jefferson Airplane).
CHRISTOPHER WOOL — When Grace Slick sings it, I believe it.
GLENN O BRIEN — If you didn’t live in New York, where would you live?
CHRISTOPHER WOOL — I moved to New York in 1973, and my first roommate said after 6 years the only way out is in an ambulance. I’m still looking for a way.
GLENN O BRIEN — Now that Dexter Gordon is gone, who’s our man in Paris?
CHRISTOPHER WOOL — Who cares? Just kidding.
GLENN O BRIEN — Is beauty antithetical to plasticity?
CHRISTOPHER WOOL — Absolutely not.
GLENN O BRIEN — What was the last novel you read?
CHRISTOPHER WOOL — Richard Hell’s Godlike.
GLENN O BRIEN — Why is Vincent Gallo a Republican?
CHRISTOPHER WOOL — Vincent’s from Upstate.
GLENN O BRIEN — Who are the good kids?
CHRISTOPHER WOOL — I’m getting old. I find youth culture dispiriting. I like Josh Smith, Emily Sundblad, Rita Ackermann—they have respect for their elders.
GLENN O BRIEN — Who’s underappreciated, undervalued, under…?
CHRISTOPHER WOOL — John Miller is still underrated, also my friend Joyce Pensato, Schooly D, Prince Jazzbo, Heimo Zobernig, Eric Mitchell…
GLENN O BRIEN — Are you part of the blank generation? Can you take it or leave it alone?
CHRISTOPHER WOOL — I certainly thought so in 1977. But at the time, more than anything else, I wished I had written “Love Comes in Spurts.”
GLENN O BRIEN — Are we gonna drive those crazy baldheads out of town?
CHRISTOPHER WOOL — We and Dr. Alimantado, the best dressed chicken in town. He shot the barber.
[Table of contents]
Report from the ShowsRead the article
by Pierre Even
Fall Winter 2006/2007: Vincent Gallo
by Terry Richardson
by Olivier Zahm
by Olivier Zahm
Gardar Eide Einarsson
by Bob Nickas
by Gary Indiana
by Olivier Zahm
by Yan Céh
by Glenn O'Brien
by Carlo Antonelli
by Olivier Zahm
by Olivier Zahm
Camille Bidault Waddington
by Horst Diekgerdes
by Alexei Hay
by Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin
by Matthias Vriens
by Katja Rahlwes
The Genealogy of Morals
by Serge Leblon
by Liz Collins
by Jork Weismann
by Vava Ribeiro
Dick & James, A True Story
by Juergen Teller
Pete Doherty, Latest News
by Hedi Slimane
Yves Saint Laurent Cruise Winter 2007
by Nathaniel Goldberg
by Heinz Peter Knes
New York Dolls
by Terry Richardson
by Katsuya Kamo
A View On The French Art Scene
by Pierre Even
She Smiles For The Camera
by Christopher Wool