Tom Wesselmann

Seascape Dropout


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Tom Wesselmann 1931–2004
Woodcut on paper
Image: 556 × 635 mm
Purchased 1982

Catalogue entry

P07760 Seascape Dropout 1982

Woodcut 21 7/8 × 25 (556 × 635), printed by Michael Berden, Boston and published by Multiples Inc., New York
Inscribed ‘Wesselman '82’ bottom centre and ‘4/50’; impressed with the publisher's stamp
Purchased from Waddington Graphics (Grant-in-Aid) 1982

‘Seascape Dropout’ relates to the series of paintings called ‘Drop Outs’ which Wesselman began in 1967. Writing under the pseudonym of Slim Stealingworth, Wesselman describes these works in Tom Wesselman, New York, 1980, as follows:

... the central image, a breast, was omitted from the shaped canvas, while the nipple and areola were retained ... These Seascapes are negative shapes. The shape is the shape one sees, for example, while lying alongside a woman who is seated on the beach. One can look up and see the opening formed by her breast, rib cage, and stomach on one side; by her descending arm on the other side; and by her thigh on the bottom. As can happen on a bright beach, the flesh drops away in this moment of awareness of the glimpse into the sunlit background, although the nipple stays a part of the scene because of its color, form, and importance as a focus (pp.52–6).

Of the paintings in the series, the Tate's print most closely resembles ‘Study for Seascape 31’, 1979, oil on canvas (repr. in col., Wesselman, p.279) and, apart from the additional detail in the paintings of tresses of the girl's hair falling across the clouds in the background, the composition of the two works is identical. The ‘Drop Outs’ works are themselves a development within the ‘Seascapes’ series which dates from 1965. The subject of the first works of this series was a foot or feet, which take the place of a full figure, set in a beach scene. Wesselman states that this particular setting was chosen because he ‘had recently discovered vacations. A number of watercolour studies of the ocean and beach around Truro, Massachusetts, grew out of a two-week Cape Cod vacation. While these studies played only a small but direct part in the paintings, they did focus [my] attention and awareness on the sea’ (Wesselman p.45). The breast as a negative shape replaced the foot motif as the subject of the series from 1967 onwards, notably in ‘Seascape 19’ 1967 (repr. in col., Wesselman, p.165). Wesselman's interest in the interplay of positive and negative shapes dates from the collages he was making in the early 60s in which there was a specific aesthetic goal which Wesselman describes as follows:

The ideal was competition rather than harmony - all parts of the painting competed throughout the painting, in many ways, in order to generate excitement and demand attention. One of the main tools besides colour was the use of positive and negative shapes or space. This is why [my] earliest nudes are often very curvy - to set up a strong positive - negative relationship between the positive shape - the body - and adjacent negative areas, so that both the adjacent area and the nude could break free and advance. If all positive and negative areas became as strong as possible, there would be no negative areas: the image could become one strong positive shape. What counted was that one final shape (Wesselman, pp.18–20).

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1982-84: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1986


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