Tom Wesselmann


The mainstream media like to think Andy Warhol was the predominate and most successful of the pop art influencers. But there was someone else whose imagery and use of block colors helped really identify the pop art movement of the 1950s and 1960s – mostly through his “action art” paintings of young women and still life paintings. Tom Wesselmann is as much a part of the pop art movement as Warhol and his paintings continue to inspire and provoke emotions to this day.


Born in 1931 in Cincinnati, Ohio, Tom Wesselmann first went to school at the University of Cincinnati before eventually joining the military between 1951 and 1954. However, it was during his time with the army that Wesselmann began to draw cartoons and other sketches to pass the time while on tour and duty, which then progressed into something that he wanted to turn into a career after his time was done with the military. After his tour of two years ended, Tom Wesselmann was soon accepted into the Art Academy of Cincinnati and graduated with his degree only to head back to college for another degree at Cooper Union in New York.


During most of his time through university, he remained to mostly do sketches and simplistic looking illustrations. However, Cooper Union professors and other faculty alike kept encouraging and exposing Tom Wesselmann to painting and printmaking. It would be this sort of “peer pressure” that would help Wesselmann to start creating collages, paintings, and assemblages in the early 1960s, right when the pop art movement was starting to really ignite. Much like Andy Warhol, Tom Wesselmann took imagery from popular culture, magazines, consumer goods, and advertisements to incorporate into his own paintings, which help him establish his name within the pop art community quickly.


It wouldn’t be until the late 1960s that he would move from advertisements and popular culture references to more sexually styled paintings of women in the nude. This would spark his very controversial and highly praised pieces known collectively as the Great American Nudes. Tom Wesselmann didn’t do the simple figure of a woman’s body, however. They would be simply drawn and painted, with major highlights going toward the figure, hair, breasts, and lips of the anonymous woman. There are many paintings he did of naked women that have no facial features that are just simply silhouettes.


Going into the 1970s, Tom Wesselmann would begin experimenting and expanding into other mediums, such as his shaped canvas still life paintings part of his Standing Still Life collection and using materials such as steel and enamel in his cut-out pieces. Eventually, late in his life before his unfortunate passing, Tom Wesselmann went back to his iconic pop art paintings of women.


Tom Wesselmann’s work has been featured all throughout the United States and internationally, helping cement the pop art movement as something that wasn’t just confined to one community but to being a culture and lifestyle.


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