Study for Sunset Nude (Variation 5). Original ink and colored pencil on Tracing Paper, 2002.
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 erotic body-language of this female figure with sensuous curves and an inviting smile, is provoking but non-offensive and highlights her femininity with simplified shapes and lines. This artwork is from the series of ‘Sunset Nudes’ made in the last few years of Wesselmann’s life, where his entire artistic oeuvre is summed up – well known odalisques, still-lives, landscapes and flowers with the appearance of abstraction from his early period in brighter, more playful and more suavely handled compositions, inspired by his biggest idol Henri Matisse.