Tom Wesselmann has been called  The world’s most famous unknown artist. Wesselmann died in 2004, and many of the retrospectives that have been put together, both in the U.S. and in Europe since his death, show both the softer side and the edginess of his work.

The Softer Side of Tom Wesselman

During his last years as an art student at Cooper Union, Wesselman produced collages that were not just tributes to Matisse, Degas and other artists, but a hint of things to come in his later work.

Just last year, exhibits of Wesselmann’s early works were shown at the David Zwirner Gallery in London and the Van de Weghe Gallery in New York. The exhibits of Wesselmann’s collages, done between 1959 to 1964, show the softer side of his work. Surrounded by pattern and texture, the subjects in the collages are often flattened and devoid of details, which are left to the viewer to fill in.

As his work progressed, Wesselman began to use more contemporary subjects, like consumer goods and, early on, managed to keep them soft and textured.

The Edgier Side of Tom Wesselmann

The progression of Wesselmann’s work became an exploration of form, not just the form of the female figure, but also the form of the canvas and the materials and techniques that became part of the development of his work.

Art historian Marco Livingstone, who curated Wesselmann’s first major retrospective in Japan in 1993, says that Wesselmann’s work is often misunderstood. “People made assumptions that these were pin-ups or ‘Playboy’ images, yet for him they were depictions of intimacy and sexual liberation.” Livingstone said, “He was working within a very long tradition of the female nude as a subject. He felt that he was just updating it for his time and his culture. The interesting thing is that it looks so eternally fresh. It hasn’t aged.”

It’s hard to pigeon-hole his work, and Wesselmann was considered a Pop artist in the ‘60s. Wesselmann was a private man who shied away the from the flash and pretentious side of the art scene. One of his earliest models was Claire Selley, a Cooper Union alumna who was his wife up until his death in 2004. He was also a musician and composer who loved country music and had his own band, although he rarely played in public. The song, I Love Doing Texas With You, written under his pseudonym Slim Stealingworth, was included on the Brokeback Mountain soundtrack.

Tom Wesselmann at VFA

We have some wonderful examples of Tom Wesselmann’s work in various media, from silkscreens to laser cut steel. Please contact us if you would like more information about the Wesselmann works available at VFA.

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