A recent show of Tom Wesselmann’s work, at the Musee National de Monaco, looked at Wesselmann’s use of the female form. Wesselmann’s series of nudes, done as abstracts in the era of post-abstract expressionism and during the Pop era, was a radical innovation in the early 1960s, when he began his Great American Nude series. He reduced the female figure to its bare essentials…lips, breasts and pubic area…which was a departure from the post-Victorian images of the female form.
What Wesselmann said he was trying to do with his work was, “to make figurative art as exciting as abstract art.” He succeeded, not only as a figurative artist, but also as a Pop artist. His large, colorful female forms, with their isolated erogenous zones, were the equivalent of the billboard product ads used to entice consumers. Rather than objectifying women, Wesselmann used the female body as a construct for the abstract.
As a young man, Wesselmann was interested in becoming a cartoonist but, after being accepted to Cooper Union in 1956, he moved to New York and was inspired to draw and paint in a more classic style by the art he saw in museums and the artists he met in school and at galleries.
Wesselmann’s life also took an upturn in 1957, when he met fellow student Claire Selley, who became his model and wife. Claire Seated with Robe Half Off, available at Vertu Fine Art, is just one of the many works for which Claire was the model. The couple was together, for more than forty years, until Wesselmann’s death, in 2004.
Tom Wesselmann’s Steel Works
The 1980s marked the beginning of a shift in focus for Wesselmann. He went from working on shaped canvas and collage to working in steel and aluminum. He created both freestanding sculptures as well as sketches etched into flat metal surfaces. Wesselman etched his first works by hand until he got hold of an industrial laser. He also spent a year working with, and learning from, metalwork fabricator Alfred Lippincott. Wesselman developed a technique that allowed him to replicate his paintings in metal. He created both figurative and still life works, like Wildflower Bouquet, available at VFA.
Tom Wesselmann’s Homages
The art that Tom Wesselmann saw when he moved to New York changed his life. He often paid tribute to the artists whose work he admired, especially Matisse. One of Wesselmann’s most interesting works is his Still Life with Johns and Matisse, which he not only painted, but also turned into a sculpture. The Maquette for Still Life with Johns and Matisse, is available at VFA.
Tom Wesselman’s Works at VFA
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Hermione Hoby. Great American Nudes artist Tom Wesselmann was no sexist, say the women in his life. The Guardian. January 19, 2016.