Tom Wesselmann: Contemporary Portraits
From student of psychology, to soldier, to aspiring cartoonist, Tom Wesselmann’s surprising life path led him to becoming one of the most celebrated Pop artists in the art world. His paintings may have traditional origins – nudes, still lifes, and portraits – but what sets him apart is the vibrant composition he finds in them. After nearly 50 decades, Wesselmann’s portraits remain as fresh and eccentric as ever.
Wesselmann describes his pull towards nudity and female models, saying, “Painting, sex and humour are the most important things in my life.” True to classic tropes, he found a muse in his wife, Claire. Throughout his career, Wesselmann continued to paint and repaint stunning portraits of his wife. Another muse, Monica Serra, is frequently featured in his portraits. The model recalls, “He thought of me as ethereal — something special.” There is an appreciation of form and essence in Wesselmann’s portraits of his muses.
While some may backlash against the sexualization of women in his pieces, in many’s eyes, Wesselmann treats each subject with appreciation. He is able to achieve a fine balance of the provocative and remaining classic, especially when taking into account the backdrop of the sexual revolution taking place in the 1960s.
Wesselmann worked in every decade up until his death. From the Great American Nude series that put him on the map, to the more loosely gestured paintings of Monica, Wesselmann was able to remain relevant through waves of numerous contemporary periods. It’s this tenacity that cements his place as a classic.
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