About The Artist
Alongside contemporaries such as Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, Tom Wesselmann was a leading American Pop artist. Born in Cincinnati, Ohio and educated at Cooper Union in New York City, Wesselmann counted Willem de Kooning, Pablo Picasso, Paul Gauguin, and Henri Matisse among his greatest inspirations. Wesselmann playfully adapted the history of art as well as images from advertising and everyday life in his paintings, laser-cut steel drawings, and multi-paneled shaped canvases.
In his most famous series, Great American Nude, Wesselmann takes the classical nudes of Titian and the modern odalisques of Henri Matisse and Édouard Manet and lends the female form his own treatment. Many of the works are based on his wife, Claire Selley, and his sexual rediscovery after their marriage in 1967. The works are flat, vibrant, and unabashedly erotic. His work of the 1970s became increasingly larger, as seen in the well-known Smoker series. In these works, larger-than-life, free-floating, red-lacquered lips balance a burning, smoking cigarette. The influence of slick advertising spreads is apparent. For the Standing Still Life series, he takes the classical genre and adds his own twist, including Coca-Cola cans, Lucky Strikes, and other branded items. In Still Life #60 (1972), five large-scale, shaped canvases totaling 25 feet long are made to resemble small trinkets that might be found in the medicine cabinet or junk drawer, including a lipstick, sunglasses, a beaded necklace, a matchbook, and a ring. The giant lipstick draws allusions to Claes Oldenburg’s controversial Lipstick (Ascending) on Caterpillar Tracks of 1969-74, and the group as a whole brings attention to the imagery inherent in everyday life.
In his final years, the artist created his Sunset Nudes series, returning to the subject matter that first gained him acclaim. Wesselmann’s work is entertaining and humorous, but it is also buttressed by a dynamic and innovative approach.
“Biography.” TomWesselman.org. The Estate of Tom Wesselmann. Web. 6 Sept. 2014.
“Oral history interview with Tom Wesselmann,” 1984 Jan. 3-Feb. 8, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Web. 8 Sept 2014.