Artist biography

American painter, sculptor and printmaker. He planned to become a cartoonist until his final year at the Cooper Union in New York. The powerful work of Willem de Kooning provided both inspiration and inhibition as he attempted to find a new direction centred around a tangible subject. Choosing the figure he began to make small collages of torn paper and found materials; these culminated in large, aggressive compositions such as Great American Nude #3 (1961; Washington, DC, Hirshhorn). These and giant still-lifes composed of common household objects and collage elements culled from popular advertising images, brought him fame and notoriety as a founder of American Pop art. In the late 1960s an increasingly dominant eroticism emerged in works such as Bedroom Painting #13 (1969; Berlin, Neue N.G.), with its more literal but still intense colours and tight, formal composition. The pictorial elements, exaggerated in their arabesque forms and arbitrary colouring, became significantly larger in scale in his works of the 1970s, such as a series of Smoker mouths; enormous, partially free-standing still-lifes moved into sculptural space, and finally became discrete sculptures of sheet metal. In the 1980s he returned to works for the wall with cut-out steel or aluminium drawings, which replicate his familiar, graceful line in enamel on cut-out metal. He was also an innovative printmaker, adapting his imagery to lithographs, screenprints, aquatints and multiples in relief. An important retrospective of his work was held in Japan in 1993–4.

Tom Wesselmann: The Early Years: Collages, 1959–1962 (exh. cat. by C. Glenn, Long Beach, CA State U., A. Gals, 1974)
Wesselmann (exh. cat., New York, Sidney Janis Gal., 1987)
Tom Wesselmann: Paintings, 1962–1986 (exh. cat., intro. J. McEwen; London, Mayor Gal. and Mayor Rowan Gal., 1988)
Wesselmann (Prints and Multiples) (exh. cat., Tokyo, Hara Mus. Contemp. A., 1990)
Tom Wesselmann: Recent Still Lifes and Landscapes (exh. cat., intro. S. Hunter; Tokyo, Gal. Tokoro, 1991)
Tom Wesselmann: A Retrospective Survey 1959–1992 (exh. cat. by M. Livingstone, Tokyo; Sappora; Shiga; Osaka; 1993–4)


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