Tom Wesselmann was very particular about how he wanted his three dimensional work was viewed. Cut Out Nude was one of his earliest sculptural pieces , which he insisted be viewed only from the front. He was interested in the visual the spaces in and around his drawings.
In 1984, Wesselmann became the first artist to use a laser to create steel drawings from his sketches, like Sitting Nude. This added another dimension to his drawings, in which the wall acted as a canvas for his work.
Those guys were really Pop artists from my feeling of what “Pop” art is. I felt like I got in the back door. I wasn’t sure that I wanted to be there, but I was just standing around, my hat in my hand and shuffling my feet a little.”
— Tom Wesselmann
If timing is everything, then Wesselmann was swept up, and his work exhibited, alongside that of Pop artists like Warhol, Lichtenstein and Rosenquist. “Those guys were really Pop artists from my feeling of what “Pop” art is” he told art critic, Irving Sandler, “I felt like I got in the back door. I wasn’t sure that I wanted to be there, but I was just standing around, my hat in my hand and shuffling my feet a little. I wasn’t really too comfortable in that category, but societally I was delighted to be a part of the group and for the emotional security it gave me and the reinforcement, not to mention the money and not having to teach.”
It’s not hard to understand why categorizing Wesselmann was difficult. The use of erotic images in his work, like The Smoker, has the clean lines, simple visual and the feel of kitsch that exemplifies Pop art.
But Wesselmann didn’t see his work as commentary on popular culture. “I was involved with a visual form and not a literary form. I had no bones about that.” he said. “So when people began to talk all the time about Coca-Cola or the Campbell Soup cans and all that sort of stuff, I began to get very uneasy because that was subject-matter talk, and I was involved in important, aesthetic matters, I felt, not subject matter.”
What got me about Matisse, and put me on my guard at the same time — was how overtly, stunningly beautiful his paintings were. They were exciting. You couldn’t look at a Matisse without feeling some kind of excitement. You just couldn’t do it!”
— Tom Wesselmann
In 1966, Wesselmann began to leave New York City for vacations in Cape Cod. A workaholic, he kept painting during his vacations on the Cape, often drawing on the positive and negative space surrounding figures on the beach, as in Seascape Dropout.
The influence of Matisse on Wesselmann’s nude paintings, came about after Wesselmann got hold of a book of Matisse reproductions. “What got me about Matisse,” Wesselmann said, “– and put me on my guard at the same time — was how overtly, stunningly beautiful his paintings were. They were exciting. You couldn’t look at a Matisse without feeling some kind of excitement. You just couldn’t do it!”
The influence of Matisse, and of the sky and water that Wesselmann painted on his vacations, can be seen in many of his screenprints, like Bedroom Face #41 and Claire Seated with Robe Half-Off.
Tom Wesselmann’s story, a kid from Cincinnati who wanted to draw cartoons, is as compelling as his rise to fame as an American icon. We welcome inquiries about Tom Wesselmann prints and the other artists in our Vertu Fine Art gallery.