Tom Wesselmann didn’t like to be pigeon-holed as a Pop artist, and as interesting a man as he was, he wasn’t easy to categorize in any aspect of his life. “I had no interest in social commentary,” Wesselmann said in a 1995 interview with The Enquirer, “I wanted to be an artist in the finest historical sense of the word.”
Although he was born in Cincinnati and spent his adult life in New York, Wesselmann had a passion for country music. He wrote hundreds of country songs, including, “I Love Doing Texas With You,” which was included on the Brokeback Mountain movie soundtrack.
Wesselmann propelled the tradition of nudes, still life and landscapes way beyond the boundaries of the Pop Art movement that defined many of his contemporaries.
Born in 1931, Wesselmann completed a degree in psychology at the University of Cincinnati after a stint in the army and began to study drawing at the Art academy of Cincinnati in 1954, with the goal of becoming a cartoonist. It was his study of art Cooper Union, that inspired him to pursue painting.
The influence of Matisse and Cezanne can be seen in the colors and perspective of Wesselmann’s work, but he was an experimenter and innovator whose focus was the evolution of his own work. Wesselmann experimented with color, size and sculptural elements. He was the first artist to use a laser and computer to make steel drawings. He also used aluminum, acrylic and plastics to add texture and dimension to his paintings, sculptures and even his screenprints.
Cut-Out Nude, from ll Pop Artists Vol. 1 is one of our favorite Wesselmann acquisitions. A screenprint on formed vinyl with a die-cut overmat, it’s a good example of both the nod to tradition and the fascination with innovation that defines his work.
Even his deceptively simple work, like Study for Seascape with Cumulus Clouds and Sky, has a strength of design that makes Wesselmann’s work so recognizable.
Many of his paintings are enormous and are housed in galleries around the country like MoMA, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Smithsonian Museum of American Art.
Fortunately for us, Wesselmann loved to create woodcuts, silkscreens and lithographs that fit perfectly on our gallery walls.
Wesselmann died in 2004, at the age of 73. He suffered from heart disease during the last ten years of his life, but was still able to create spectacular paintings and prints. An excerpt from his diary reads, “I loved being alive even though I buried myself alive in my work.”