Tom Wesselmann

Tom Wesselmann was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, on February 23, 1931 and he was an American Pop artist. He attended Hiram College in Ohio from 1949 to 1951 before entering the University of Cincinnati. After a two-year enlistment in the army, he returned to university in 1954 and received a bachelor’s degree in psychology. However, after spending time drawing cartoons whilst enlisted in the army, he decided to pursue a career in art. He enrolled at the Art Academy of Cincinnati and received his diploma in 1959. After graduation he moved to New York City, where his focus shifted to fine art.

Wesselmann became one of the leading American Pop artists of the 1960s. He became known for focusing on classical representations of the nude, still life, and landscape. He is best known for his Great American Nude series featuring intense colours and curvaceous forms. Many of these lounging female subjects are in patriotic red, white, and blue. This is in reference to the Western figurative tradition while incorporating elements of American advertising. The late 1960s saw Wesselmann created close-up views of the nude in the Bedroom Paintings (1968–83). In these works a single part of the nude body, contrasts against common bedroom objects, such as a light switch, flowers, pillows, and curtains.

In the seventies, Wesselmann continued to explore the ideas and media which had preoccupied him during the Sixties. Most significantly, his large Standing Still Life series. Composed of free standing shaped canvases, it showed small intimate objects on a grand scale. He continued exploring shaped canvases (first exhibited in the 1960s) and began creating his first works in metal. He explored the process of laser-cutting, which would allow him to make his drawings in cut-out metal. The 1990s and early 2000s saw the artist expanding on these themes, creating three-dimensional images. In his final years he returned to the female form in his Sunset Nudes series of oil paintings on canvas. The bold compositions and imagery, and positive moods often recall the odalisques of Henri Matisse.

From 1967 through 1981 Wesselmann worked on his Standing Still Life paintings. These were monumental works of canvases shaped according to the outline of the commonplace objects that they depict. In 2018 the complete series of nine works were on show for the first time at Gagosian, New York. After the Standing Still Lifes, Wesselmann continued to make three-dimensional sculptural work. He also developed an innovative technique of “drawing” with sculptural materials in the shape of his drawn forms. His abstract works expanded this mode of working on a larger scale, and continued to push the boundaries between painting and sculpture.

In the last ten years, Tom Wesselmann suffered with his health, mainly his heart, but his studio output remained constant. Following surgery for his heart condition, Wesselmann died of complications on December 17, 2004. His last major paintings of the series Sunset Nudes (2003/2004) exhibited after his death in New York City. His legacy and work continues to be a major contributor to American Pop Art.

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