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Tom Wesselmann

Early Works

March 3 – May 20, 2016

TOM WESSELMANN: Early Works, Van de Weghe Fine Art, March 3 - May 10, 2016, Installation view
TOM WESSELMANN: Early Works, Van de Weghe Fine Art, March 3 - May 10, 2016, Installation view
TOM WESSELMANN: Early Works, Van de Weghe Fine Art, March 3 - May 10, 2016, Installation view

Press Release

Van de Weghe is pleased to present an exhibition of paintings and works on paper by Tom Wesselmann (1931-2004). Considered one of the founders of Pop, alongside such artists as Warhol, Lichtenstein and Rosenquist, Wesselmann himself resisted the label, considering his work to be deeply rooted in the Modernist tradition; his goal was to redesign figurative painting.  The exhibition focuses on early works from the 1960s and 1970s. 


Tom Wesselmann was born in Cincinnati, and grew up in its suburbs.  He attended the University of Cincinnati from which, punctuated by a stint in the army, he earned a degree in psychology in 1956.  While in the army, he developed an interest in cartooning and decided to move to New York to sharpen his drawing skills, enrolling at The Cooper Union and graduating in 1959.  Wesselmann was deeply affected by Abstract Expressionism, but he felt that he had nothing further to add to the discourse.  He opted instead to focus on traditional subject matter that he had previously avoided: still lifes, landscapes, and nudes.  He recognized what Henri Matisse had achieved decades before with regard to color, form, and composition.


Wesselmann is best known for his series of paintings, the Great American Nudes, begun in 1961, featuring the nude female form, alluringly posed in a manner at once classical  Odalesque and erotic pin-up girl.  In Great American Nude #37, 1962, an early painting from the series, Wesselmann paints the figure in a domestic interior described by a collaged scrap of linoleum and found objects, carefully balancing the abstract form of the nude with objects from life.  As the decade progressed, his compositions become more meticulously calibrated, characterized by expanses of flat, vivid color punctuated by red parted lips, pink conical nipples, and depictions of household items. Though he often used his wife or close friends as models, the paintings are not portraits.   Personal features are omitted in favor of an exaggerated focus on those that signify the boldly erotic which become jarring and aggressive in large scale. Like the work of Mondrian, the paintings are at once wild and tightly controlled.

Wesselmann’s investigations of the figure lead him to isolate features and focus on these as subjects on their own.  He began the Face series in 1966, of shaped canvases depicting closely-cropped faces; the  ecstatic mouth dominates.  Face #4, 1968 is the fourth and final work of this group, and the most directly taken from life.  In 1965 came the Mouth series, paintings of disembodied lips, lush and usually parted.  This developed into the Smokers later in the decade, which are quite painterly as he worked from photographs, mixing his paint on the canvas directly.  Smoker Study was painted in 1973, the first year that Wesselmann added the element of the manicured hand.  The sensual, made-up mouth, ensconced in wisps of smoke evokes clichés of advertising that draw their power from erotic symbols, and becomes one of Wesselman’s  most recurrent themes of the 1970s.


Tom Wesselmann’s work is an iconic part of 20th century art, at once prototypically Pop and doggedly formalist.  He constantly explored the tangents and possibilities of his subject and materials.  His oeuvre is a ground-breaking, fresh, and brilliant variation on traditional themes.  The works resonate deeply with a longing felt at the spectacle of overt beauty.  Gallery hours are Monday – Friday from 10:00am – 6:00pm, and by appointment.  For further information, please contact Jenn Viola at