Study for Sunset Nude with Abstract Painting (Lying on Side). 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 biggest influence from Henri Matisse is visible in his final years in series the ‘Sunset Nudes’. Admiration and influence are seen in diminishing the border between his figurative and abstract styles, displaying firmer lines and a chromatic range that favored primary colors. This flat and almost abstract composition is showing a blonde nude lit up by the sunset and drowned in its colors with a highlight on her skin like a racing stripe. The borderline between the two most significant areas of this work, figuration and abstraction, is diminished.