Smoking Cigarette #1. Original color etching and soft-ground etching on Arches watercolor paper, 1991. Edition of 65 signed and numbered impressions on Arches paper.
Tom Wesselmann is one of the biggest American pop artists today. Even he did not like being labeled a pop artist, it is hard to imagine that his artworks featuring consumer goods and assorted American icons would be considered anything but pop art. At first he was a follower of abstract expressionism, but later switched to figurative art. In the late ‘50s he produced a series of small format collages, which became the basis for his future nudes and still lifes. In 1963 he married Claire Selley, his most faithful model from the series ‘Great American Nude’, and other nudes. In his search for creative styles he began to produce three-dimensional works with the technique of assemblage, using everyday objects such as telephones and televisions. In the ‘Still Life’ series he used advertising techniques and complemented traditional still lifes with mass consumption items taken directly from ads. In the ‘80s he began to work with metals and produced original works with a special laser. Over the next two decades he returned to large formats and the theme of the nude from the ‘60s, rounding off his career with The ‘Sunset Nude’ series, inspired by the works of Matisse. Tom Wesselmann went down in history as one of the greatest representatives of pop art due to his exciting commercial images, his aggressive intervention in three dimensions, his choice of trivial motifs, their monumentalisation, the use of stereotypes as a basis for his work and the choice of strong colors. Wesselmann’s aesthetic usage of everyday objects was done not in criticism of American consumerism and culture, but as a way to render Classical genres modern so as to explore the gap between art and contemporary life. The ‘Smoker Study’ series of works would become one of the most recurrent themes in the 1970s, which he developed throughout the rest of his artistic life. Characterized by the flattening and simplification of everyday subjects, here a single cigarette releases a precise stream of smoke. This burning cigarette on the first sight looks like just a banal representation of an everyday object, but it is more than this. Even cigarettes were one of the major consumer products, which we could previously often seen in different commercials with handsome men and pretty ladies, it also represents an allusion to the lips as an eroticized object, as well as the intimate scenes from bedrooms, suggesting a sensual post coital routine shared between lovers.