Tom Wesselmann. Photo by Jerry Goodman
One of the leading American Pop artists of the 1960s, Tom Wesselmann rejected abstract expressionism in favor of classical representations of the nude, still life, and landscape. He created collages and assemblages incorporating everyday objects and advertising ephemera in an effort to make images as powerful as the abstract expressionism he admired. He is perhaps best known for his “Great American Nude” series with its sensuous forms and intense colors. In the 1970s, Wesselmann continued to explore the ideas and media which had preoccupied him during the decade prior. Most significantly, his large “Standing Still Life” series, composed of freestanding shaped canvases, showed small intimate objects on a grand scale. In 1980, Wesselmann now using the pseudonym Slim Stealingworth, wrote an autobiography documenting the evolution of his artistic work. He continued exploring shaped canvases (first exhibited in the 1960s) and began creating his first works in metal. He instigated the development of a laser-cutting application, which would allow him to make a faithful translation of his drawings in cut-out metal. The 1990s and early 2000s saw the artist expanding on these themes, creating abstract three-dimensional images that he described as “going back to what I had desperately been aiming for in 1959.” He had indeed come full circle. In his final years, he returned to the female form in his Sunset Nudes series of oil paintings on canvas, whose bold compositions, abstract imagery, and sanguine moods often recall the odalisques of Henri Matisse.
Tom Wesselmann was born in 1931 in Cincinnati, Ohio, and died in 2004 in New York. He attended Hiram College, Ohio, from 1949 to 1951. Having been drafted, he served for two years in the army. He received his B.A. in psychology in 1954 from the University of Cincinnati, and then went on to study at the Cooper Union, New York. Wesselmann’s work has been featured in solo and group exhibitions worldwide. Recent solo exhibitions include “The Intimate Images,” University Art Museum, California State University, Long Beach (2003); Museo d'Arte Contemporanea di Roma, Italy (2005); “Tom Wesselmann Draws,” Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale, Nova Southeastern University, Florida (2010, traveled to the Kreeger Museum, Washington, D.C., through 2011); “Beyond Pop Art; A Tom Wesselmann Retrospective,” Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Quebec (2012, traveled to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond; Denver Art Museum; and Cincinnati Art Museum, through 2014); and “Tom Wesselmann: La Promesse du Bonheur,” Nouveau Musée National de Monaco (2018).