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Tom Wesselmann, 1931 - 2004, Helen Nude, 1981, Screenprint in Colors, H 31” x W 32”, Signed, Dated Lower Right - "Wesselmann '81"

Helen Nude, 1981

Known for his Pop-Art nude figures–the Great American Nude Series–as well as collages, often with food themes, Tom Wesselmann is a Cincinnati born artist who studied at the Art Academy of Cincinnati and at Cooper Union in New York City in the late 1950′s.

When Tom Wesselmann was a student at Cooper Union, he was much influenced by Abstract Expressionism, especially painters Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock. However, Tom Wesselmann turned away from that style because he determined these artists had become so introspective that there was little room for creative exploration by others.

The reaction of Tom Wesselmann took him to Pop Art, the other extreme of action painting to a tightly controlled style and subject matter that was mundane–the antithesis of psychological complexities. Tom Wesselmann joined a rebellion against the New York School of Abstract Expressionists which had become the establishment. Artists such as Tom Wesselmann, Andy Warhol and Wayne Thiebaud asserted that everyday objects had significance unto themselves and that they were worthy of depiction because of a common understanding about what they were.

Of this reaction, Norman Geske, Director of Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery, wrote: “The swing of the pendulum was complete, from the esoteric to the commonplace, from passionate individualism to the popular language of the marketplace. The new point of view was not merely popular, it was ‘pop,’ assertive, declamatory, defiant, achieving a stylistic identity in the soup cans of Andy Warhol, the comic strips of Roy Lichtenstein, the billboards of James Rosenquist, and the domestic icons of Tom Wesselmann.” (192)

In 1959, Tom Wesselmann began his collages, which show influence of modernist artists ranging from Willem de Kooning to Henri Matisse. These collages were usually interior scenes with nude figures, a subject Tom Wesselmann did so repeatedly that it seemed an obsession. During the mid-1960s, Tom Wesselmann focused solely on female nudes, presenting them as sex objects with emphasis on breasts, mouth and genitalia.

Sources include:
Dictionary of American Artists by Matthew Baigell
The American Painting Collection of the Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery by Norman Geske and Karen Janovy

Compiled and written by Lonnie Pierson Dunbier.

Biography from the Archives of AskART.