Tom Wesselmann

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Tom Wesselmann was not only a leading figure but the co-founder of the American Pop Art movement of the 1960s. Apart from painting, Wesselmann’s strengths also lay in sculpting and he happened to be a master collagist. The main subject matter of Wesselmann’s works were often the female nude and in some very rare cases everyday suburban images of the American life. He initially made a name for himself with his ‘Great American Nudes’ series which was showcased in New York and created quite a stir amongst the art scene there. His work also focused on magnified objects centering on household objects which Wesselmann elevated with his profound magnetic touch.

Tom Wesselmann was born in 1931 in Cincinnati, Ohio into a middle class family. Unlike most artists of any era, he showed no initial interest in art during his childhood – he enrolled in university to study psychology. The change came when he was drafted into the army for a two year period during the Korean wars. Overseas is when Wesselmann started drafting cartoons to kill time, upon returning from the war he first opted to finish his degree in psychology and then proceeded to study art at the Art Academy of Cincinnati. Side-by-side studying for his art degree, Wesselmann made a living working as a cartoonist for various journals and magazines as well as being a high school teacher. By the 1950s Wesselmann released a series of collages titled the ‘Great American Nudes’ and everyone took notice. Soon he was working steadily as a collagist showcasing various exhibitions of his work in art galleries across New York. Due to his classical aesthetic sense, Wesselmann was often mentioned along the same lines as Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein something which Wesselmann never truly cared about. For the next 40 years Wesselmann continued to work opting for painting and even experimenting with different materials in his collages like metal. Wesselmann always paid a tribute to Manhattan which according to him, played a monumental role in his journey as an artist. Much of his earlier years as an art student were spent visiting museums, galleries and he was drawn to the works of great masters like Willem de Kooning and Robert Motherwell. For Wesselmann, that art was inspiring which caused a tingling excitement in his stomach – that was the sort of art he wanted to create which people would talk about for years to come.

Soon Wesselmann’s works were also being exhibited in Europe and South America – particularly Brazil where Wesselmann’s work was appreciated due to its boldness and vibrancy. One of his last works before his death was the encompassing female nude titled Sunset Nude with Matisse Odalisque. Enriched with deep colors of brown, corals, pink and red the oil on canvas painting showcases two nude females basking in the glory of a sunset. For any artist painting female nudes would be tricky but the way Tom Wesselmann managed to make his paintings look graceful and classy was astounding. It was almost as if he was in awe of the female form.

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