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 Tom Wesselmann  (1931 - 2004)

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Lived/Active: New York/Ohio      Known for: painting-pop nude figure, mod real images, collage

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Ad Code: 1
Tom Wesselmann
from Auction House Records.
GREAT AMERICAN NUDE NO. 48
© Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY See Details
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Known for his Pop-Art* nude figures--the Great American Nude Series--as well as collages, often with food themes, Tom Wesselmann is a Cincinnati born artist who studied at the Art Academy of Cincinnati and at Cooper Union* in New York City in the late 1950s.

When he was a student at Cooper Union, he was much influenced by Abstract Expressionism*, especially painters Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock.  However, he turned away from that style because he determined these artists had become so introspective that there was little room for creative exploration by others.

His reaction took him to Pop Art, the other extreme of action painting to a tightly controlled style and subject matter that was mundane--the antithesis of psychological complexities.  Joining a rebellion against the New York School* of Abstract Expressionists that which had become the establishment, he, like Andy Warhol and Wayne Thiebaud, asserted that everyday objects had significance unto themselves and that they were worthy of depiction because of a common understanding about what they were.

Of this reaction, Norman Geske, Director of Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery, wrote: "The swing of the pendulum was complete, from the esoteric to the commonplace, from passionate individualism to the popular language of the marketplace.  The new point of view was not merely popular, it was 'pop,' assertive, declamatory, defiant, achieving a stylistic identity in the soup cans of Andy Warhol, the comic strips of Roy Lichtenstein, the billboards of James Rosenquist, and the domestic icons of Tom Wesselmann." (192)

In 1959, Wesselmann began his collages*, which show influence of modernist artists ranging from Willem de Kooning to Henri Matisse.  These collages were usually interior scenes with nude figures, a subject he did so repeatedly that it seemed an obsession.  During the mid-1960s, he focused solely on female nudes, presenting them as sex objects with emphasis on breasts, mouth, and genitalia.

Written by Lonnie Pierson Dunbier

Sources include:
Dictionary of American Artists by Matthew Baigell and
The American Painting Collection of the Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery by Norman Geske and Karen Janovy.

* For more in-depth information about these terms and others, see AskART.com Glossary http://www.askart.com/AskART/lists/Art_Definition.aspx




Biography from Hollis Taggart Galleries (Artists, S-Z):
Tom Wesselmann was one of the founding members of the Pop Art movement in America. Alongside Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Claes Oldenburg, Jim Dine, and James Rosenquist, Tom Wesselmann defined one of the most progressive movements in the history of American art. Spurred on by the flashy images of advertising, Wesselmann developed a style that reflected a contemporary culture consumed by mass media and a society obsessed with objects. His flat colors, clean lines, and bold yet seemingly anonymous presentation of the female figure characterizes Wesselmann’s art for over four decades.

Born in Cincinnati in 1931, Wesselmann studied psychology at the Hiram College and at the time expressed little interest in art. However, after serving in the army where he found himself doodling comic strips, he entered the Cincinnati Academy of Art in pursuit of a career as a cartoonist. At the advice of an instructor, Wesselmann moved to New York City in 1956 and enrolled in art classes at the Cooper Union. “It was there that he came in contact with the heated atmosphere of Abstract Expressionism and his ambition to paint broadened,” explained the influential curator and proponent of the Pop art movement Henry Geldzahler. (1)

His early works were small Cubist-inspired collages that combined paint and magazine cut-outs. These works struck a balance between the intimate and the brazen and often featured pink Matisse-like nudes. Wesselmann gradually moved from small-scale collages to large paintings but retained the abrupt compositional juxtaposition characteristic of the collage as well as his glossy billboard colors.

In 1962, Wesselmann began his most noted series, “The Great American Nude,” which played on the “corruption of Eros by a consumer society.” (2). This series focused a bold and brash depiction of the female nude— enlarged, hyper-sanitized, and above all, objectified: “The nude, I feel, is a good way to be aggressive, figuratively. I want to stir up intense, explosive reactions in the viewers. Let them feel a …BLAM! As for the erotic elements, I use them formally, without any embellishment. I like to think that my work is about all kinds of pleasure.” (3)

It was during this period in the 1960’s that Wesselmann’s work broadened to incorporate three-dimensional household objects and reconstructions of domestic American interiors and expanded to include still life, interiors, and landscape. “I used blunt Pop imagery and simple, clean colors to take on the traditional subjects of painting--the nude, the still life, the landscape” (4)

In the 1970s, Wesselmann’s work became increasingly sculptural. Ever expanding his technical vocabulary and building upon the constructions and assemblages of the 1960’s, Wesselmann began combining mundane objects like a woman’s shoe, a belt, a vase of flowers into sculptural compositions with special dimensionality. Art historian Sam Hunter called these works “disarmingly simple…provocative, even steamy” (5)

In 1980, Wesselmann, under the pseudonym Slim Stealingworth, wrote "Tom Wesselmann" (published by Harry N. Abrams). The book featured an autobiographical account written in the third person of the artist’s process and development.

Wesslemann’s later work, “steel drawings” as he called them, featured compositions of cut-out images in aluminum, which the artist layered and painted to create a kind of relief wall sculpture. Wesselmann died in December 2004. It is believed that at the time of this death, he was working on a series of nudes inspired by Willem de Kooning and the Abstract Expressionist style. (6)

1) Henry Geldzahler, "Pop Art 1955-70" (Australia: International Cultural Corporation of Australia Limited, 1985).
2) Geldzahler, p. 189
3) Wesselmann quoted in Gardner, Paul. “Tom Wessleman.” "Art News" (January 1982), p. 69.
4) ibid.
5) Sam Hunter, "Tom Wesselman" (New York: Rizzoli International Publications, 1994), p. 26.
6) Smith, Roberta. "The New York Times," December 20, 2004.

© Copyright 2008 Hollis Taggart Galleries

Biography from Denis Bloch Fine Art:
An American born painter, sculptor, and printmaker, Tom Wesselmann was born in Cincinnati, OH in 1931.  He studied psychology at the University of Cincinnati and also took art classes at the Art Academy of Cincinnati.  Originally he had intended to become a cartoonist, but instead turned to painting.

From 1956-1959 he continued his art studies at the Cooper Union in New York. H e claimed to have heard only of one living artist, the painter and illustrator Norman Rockwell at the time of his arrival in New York, but he quickly informed himself about Modern Art by visiting the museums where the works of Robert Motherwell and Willem de Kooning made a lasting impact on him.

In 1961 he had his first one-man show in New York, and soon after emerged as one of the leading figures in American Pop Art, exhibiting alongside Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, Jim Dine, and Alex Katz among others.  Wesselmann never liked his inclusion in American Pop Art, pointing out how he made an aesthetic use of everyday objects and not a reference to them as consumer objects.  He would often incorporate elements of collage or assemblage in his work, using everyday objects such as television sets, telephones and even included sound effects.

Wesselmann's subjects are characteristically overtly sexual, and he is best known for his continuing painting series the 'Great American Nude' (begun in 1961) where the nude becomes a depersonalized sex symbol set in a commonplace environment. He emphasized the woman's nipples, mouth and genitals with the rest of the body depicted in flat, unmodulated colour.

During the late 1960s and early 1970s, Wesselmann worked constantly on the 'Bedroom Painting Series' in which elements of his 'Great American Nude', 'Still Lifes' and 'Seascapes' were juxtaposed.  With these works Wesselmann began to concentrate on a few details such as hands, feet and breasts surrounded by flowers and objects.  A major motivation of the 'Bedroom Paintings' was to shift the focus and scale of the attendant objects around a nude; these objects are relatively small in relation to the nude, but become major, even dominant elements when the central element is a body part.

Wesselmann was a highly inventive printmaker who favored the screenprint (serigraph) but also worked in unconventional formats, such as blind embossing and mixograph relief prints. These large scale prints mirror the boldness of his unique paintings and embody the vitality, openness and free spirit of the sixties.

Quote:
"Personality would only be distraction from the simple fact of nudity. When I create physical details like lips or nipples, they are of importance for the erotic simplification. From the beginning I never gave them faces. A face gives personal touch to a sexual act, makes it a portrait act. And that, I don´t like at all."

Select Museum Collections:
Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY
Tate Gallery, London
Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC
National Gallery of Art, Washington DC
Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena, CA
Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN

Biography from RoGallery.com:
Tom Wesselmann was born in Cincinnati, studied in Ohio at Hiram College and then at the University of Cincinnati, where he earned a degree in psychology in 1956. After two years in the Army, he attended the Art Academy of Cincinnati, and then went to New York to study at the Cooper Union Art School.  Although his earliest works leaned toward Abstract Expressionism, his style underwent a series of dramatic changes and eventually led to his becoming an important exponent of Pop Art.

In 1961, Wesselmann had his first one-man show in New York and began his most famous series, Great American Nudes.  Since then he has had frequent exhibits in prominent American and European galleries.  His work has been included in the permanent collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; the Philadelphia Museum of Art; and the Walker Art Institute, Minneapolis to name just three of a long, impressive list.

One year after 1961, he participated in the group exhibition 'New Realists' at the Sidney Janis Gallery, and his international career with numerous exhibitions started off.  The same year his first assemblages with the title Still Life came into existence.

In 1963, Wesselmann married his girl-friend and fellow student Claire Selley, who also was his most important model.  He began a series of Bathtub Collages.  In 1966, the first of many one-man shows took place at the Janis Gallery.  In 1964, Tom Wesselmann began with further series, e.g. Bedroom Paintings, Seascapes, and Smokers, which he continued until the early 1980s.

In 1980, he published a treatise about his artistic development under the pseudonym Slim Stealingworth.  In 1983, his first Metal Works were produced, which were based on the artist's drawings and sketches and which are still in the centre of the artist's interest.  In 1994 a comprehensive retrospective took place at the Kunsthalle in Tübingen.

Wesselmann died in New York on 17 December 2004.  His choice of trivial motifs, their monumentalisation, reduction to stereotypes, sexual 'emblematics' as well as the use of bright colors made Wesselmann a co-founder of the American Pop-Art during the 1960s.

Biography from Fineartgasm.com:
Tom Wesselmann was born in Cincinnati in 1931, and studied art first in Cincinnati, then in New York at the Cooper Union.  His early paintings were evocative of Abstract Expressionism, influenced by Willem de Kooning.  One of the first Pop artists, along with Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and Claes Oldenburg, Wesselmann started experiments in 1959 with small, abstract collages.  Then, in 1960, he adopted advertising images to make bold amusing still lifes and interiors, collages and assemblages using commonplace household items, and often, a highly stylized female nude.

Wesselmann began The Great American Nude Series in 1961, a series of large and small works distinguished by number only.  Some of the works include real rather than depicted objects, household objects such as a bathtub, radiator, and toaster.  He has continued to feature the female nude in every major series of paintings and sculpture throughout his career.

Biography from Artbrokering.com:
Born in 1931, Tom Wesselmann was formally trained in New York and had his first one-man exhibition in 1961.  A significant contributor to the Pop Art movement of the sixties, Wesselmann's large-scale collages and paintings of nudes, landscapes and still-lifes captured the attention of collectors and critics almost immediately. 

He has pioneered a number of art forms now strongly associated with him, namely his 'drop outs', where negative shapes become positive shapes, and his 'cutouts', which utilize laser cut metal to create extraordinary three-dimensional drawings.  He too, has been a remarkable printmaker, having created large, spectacular silkscreens and lithographs.

The color and impact of his work has earned him a respected position in Contemporary art and his works can be found in important collections around the world.

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Tom Wesselmann is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
Painters of Nudes
Modernism



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