Tom Wesselmann (1931 - 2004)


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American artist Tom Wesselmann was born in Cincinnati and studied initially at Hiram College and the University of Cincinnati where he graduated with a degree in Psychology. Two years of military service didn’t just hone his physical agility but his drawing abilities too: soon he was drawing satirical cartoons and enrolling at the Art Academy of Cincinnati. Upon moving to New York City, Wesselmann was accepted into the Cooper Union where he began studying formal fine art.

Of the artist Willem de Kooning, Wesselmann said "…He was what I wanted to be." Alongside a teaching career, Wesselmann was one of the founding members of the Judson Gallery and by 1960 he was one of the leading Pop Artists of that decade making collages and assemblages of everyday objects and advertising ephemera. By the early 1960s his Great American Nude series of ‘fat forms and intense colours’ brought him significant critical acclaim. Wesselmann’s first solo show was at New York’s Tanager Gallery in 1961 and was quickly followed by several others. By the middle of the 1960s Wesselman had become part of what Henry Geldzahler called the ‘common source of imagination’ that was Pop Art, and yet it was this precise label he disliked and resisted. Basing himself increasingly in isolated Upstate New York and Cape Cod in Massachusetts, Wesselmann became fascinated by both natural forms and the entirely artificial yet deeply compelling images of modern television.

In 1984 he told an interviewer that ‘Painting, sex and humour are the most important things in my life’. His prominent exhibitions included the 1966 group-exhibition Dada 1916-66 at the Galleria Nationale Arte Moderna in Rome, and soon after his first solo exhibition in Europe (at the Ileana Sonnabedn Gallery in Paris) his reputation increased. Shiny and colourful female forms, often smoking, combined alongside monochromatic steel works of art which were exhibited widely in New York City, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Dallas, London, Paris, Cannes, Brussels, Düsseldorf, Milan, Venice, Rome, Naples, Stockholm and Tokyo. Several international retrospectives preceded his death following surgery for a heart condition in December of 2004.
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