The major influence of Henri Matisse on the work of one of the leading figures of American Pop Art.
With his Great American Nudes series of the Sixties, Tom Wesselmann turned the Matissian odalisque into a pop icon. Subsequently, Matisse's work remained a central reference in his search for visual effectiveness and overload.
Through a selection of forty-one artworks, the exhibition Tom Wesselmann. After Matisse explores the multiple ways in which the artist expressed his admiration for Matisse, from his first collages in 1959 to his last works, the Sunset Nudes series in the 2000s. They reflect different modes of appropriation: works based on Matisse, direct quotations, or, more profoundly, a Matissian conception of colour and surface.
This catalogue investigates Wesselmann's creative processes in the studio and helps to understand the elaborate technique of collage or 3D drawing he used, showing how attentive he was to the question of scale, in small formats as in large-size works. It brings together four significant series of works which testify to the dialogue between this major American Pop artist and Henri Matisse: collages, Great American Nudes, Steel Drawings and Sunset Nudes.
The publication includes essays by Gail Stavitsky and Claudine Grammont, and a conversation with Susan Davidson.
Published following the eponymous exhibitions at Almine Rech Gallery, Paris, in 2022, and at Musée Matisse, Nice, in 2023.
Tom Wesselmann was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, on February 23, 1931. He attended Hiram College in Ohio from 1949 to 1951 before entering the University of Cincinnati. In 1953, his studies were interrupted by a two-year enlistment in the army, during which time he began drawing cartoons. He returned to the university in 1954 and received a bachelor's degree in psychology in 1956. During this time, he decided to pursue a career in cartooning and so enrolled at the Art Academy of Cincinnati. After graduation he moved to New York City, where he was accepted into the Cooper Union and where his focus shifted dramatically to fine art. He received his diploma in 1959.
Wesselmann became one of the leading American Pop artists of the 1960s, rejecting abstract expressionism in favor of the classical representations of the nude, still life, and landscape. He created collages and assemblages incorporating everyday objects and advertising ephemera in an effort to make images as powerful as the abstract expressionism he admired. He is perhaps best known for his great "American Nude" series with their sensuous forms and intense colors. In the 1970s, Wesselmann continued to explore the ideas and media which had preoccupied him during the 1960s. Most significantly, his large "Standing Still Life" series, composed of free standing shaped canvases, showed small intimate objects on a grand scale.
In 1980, Wesselmann now using the pseudonym Slim Stealingworth, wrote an autobiography documenting the evolution of his artistic work. He continued exploring shaped canvases (first exhibited in the 1960s) and began creating his first works in metal.
He instigated the development of a laser-cutting application, which would allow him to make a faithful translation of his drawings in cut-out metal. In the 1990s and early 2000s, the artist expanded these themes, creating abstract three dimensional images that he described as "going back to what I had desperately been aiming for in 1959." He had indeed come full circle. In his final years, he returned to the female form in his "Sunset Nudes" series of oil paintings on canvas, whose bold compositions, abstract imagery, and sanguine moods often recall the odalisques of Henri Matisse.
Wesselmann worked in New York City for more than four decades. He lived in New York City with his wife, Claire, daughters Jenny and Kate, and son Lane. He died there on December 17, 2004.