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Artists Tom Wesselmann
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Tom Wesselmann

American Painter, Illustrator, Sculptor, and Collagist

Movement: Pop Art

Born: February 23, 1931 - Cincinnati, Ohio

Died: December 17, 2004 - New York City

Tom Wesselmann Timeline

Quotes

"I dislike labels in general and 'Pop' in particular, especially because it overemphasizes the material used. There does seem to be a tendency to use similar materials and images, but the different ways they are used denies any kind of group intention."
Tom Wesselmann
"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."
Tom Wesselmann
"The prime mission of my art, in the beginning, and continuing still, is to make figurative art as exciting as abstract art."
Tom Wesselmann
"For many years, drawing, especially from the nude, was a desperate attempt to capture something significant of the beauty of the woman I was confronted with. It was always frustrating because the beauty of the woman is so elusive."
Tom Wesselmann
"I'm on my way to becoming a totally abstract artist. No more nipples. No more flowers. All this time I thought my move away from de Kooning was in a straight line, now I'm beginning to see it as a complete circle."
Tom Wesselmann

"I find sometimes I get so excited working, especially when starting new ideas; I get so excited that I get uncomfortable. It almost feels dangerous, like I'm flirting with something dangerous."

Tom Wesselmann Signature

Synopsis

Initially a cartoonist for men's magazines, Tom Wesselmann reduced the classical female nude to her essential components: lips, nips and pubes. His Venuses have tan lines. Cigarettes dangle from their rocket-red mouths. Their crisp outlines resonate with the immediacy of a neon sign. Like the nudes of Titian, Velasquez, or Rubens, Wesselmann's mid-century modern nudes sprawl across furniture in suggestive poses, awaiting a lover the viewer naturally assumes is him. Wesselmann's chief interest was not to draw attention to the subject, but "to make figurative art as exciting as abstract art." He succeeded brilliantly at this, and his work engages our senses - as Jim Dine told him before Wesselmann's first show in New York, "You may be one of America's great painters."

Key Ideas

With its fetishistic isolation of erogenous zones (hair, lips, nipples, teeth, etc) Wesselmann's imagery reintroduces the ideal female form to art. Wesselmann's is a post-Abstract-Expressionist incarnation of the ideal body for the consumer age, something to be consumed like a bottle of beer, a tabloid, or a comic book. The most blatantly erotic of the Pop artists, Wesselmann connected commercialism and voyeurism with unprecedented force.
More directly and succinctly than that of any other artist, Wesselmann's work sums up the handoff of Pop from England to America, where Pop art gets bigger, bolder and cruder, almost as if responding to the geographic environment.
The influence of De Kooning on Wesselmann would be difficult to overestimate. An early infatuation with De Kooning led him to fuse the language of billboards with Abstract form. In 1994 Wesselmann admitted "In my early days, I was so envious of [Willem] de Kooning that I almost stopped being a painter." De Kooning's famous Women series of the 1950s was essentially the impetus for Wesselmann's life's work.
Never at ease with the Pop art label, Wesselmann felt that he lacked the drive toward cultural critique that characterized the movement: "My culture was what I used" he explained. "But I didn't use it for cultural reasons, it was not a cultural comment."
Wesselmann is fascinating to compare with someone like Claes Oldenburg, whose suggestive Lipstick (Ascending) on Caterpillar Tracks (1969) also substitutes the part for the whole, but in a more open-ended way. His lack of subtlety is part of what makes Wesselmann Wesselmann.

Biography

Tom Wesselmann Photo

Childhood

Wesselmann was born in Cincinnati, Ohio on February 23, 1931. While little about his early years is a matter of public record, he has stated emphatically that his hometown was not a place he felt he could develop as an artist: "Cincinnati was a negative influence on me as far as art is concerned. In Cincinnati, I was unaware of the existence of art. I thought all artists painted like Norman Rockwell." Elsewhere, he elaborated, "You can look back and see how dreadfully commonplace I was." He would not develop a particularly strong interest in art until well into adulthood.

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Tom Wesselmann Biography Continues

Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Influenced by Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Tom Wesselmann
Interactive chart with Tom Wesselmann's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
View Influences Chart

Artists

Henri MatisseHenri Matisse
Willem de KooningWillem de Kooning
Édouard VuillardÉdouard Vuillard
Piet MondrianPiet Mondrian
Robert MotherwellRobert Motherwell

Personal Contacts

Alex KatzAlex Katz
Roy LichtensteinRoy Lichtenstein

Movements

Abstract ExpressionismAbstract Expressionism
FauvismFauvism

Influences on Artist
Tom Wesselmann
Tom Wesselmann
Years Worked: 1952 - 2004
Influenced by Artist

Artists

Roy LichtensteinRoy Lichtenstein
Andy WarholAndy Warhol
Jim DineJim Dine
Eric FischlEric Fischl
Mickalene ThomasMickalene Thomas

Personal Contacts

Irving SandlerIrving Sandler
Sidney JanisSidney Janis
Henry GeldzahlerHenry Geldzahler

Movements

Pop ArtPop Art

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Cite this page

Content compiled and written by Jen Glennon

Edited and revised, with Synopsis and Key Ideas added by Ruth Epstein

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Jen Glennon
Edited and revised, with Synopsis and Key Ideas added by Ruth Epstein
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