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 two years when he joined the army. While enlisted he began drawing cartoons. He returned to 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 therefore 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 lived and worked in New York for the next forty years. He died in 2004, surrounded by his wife Claire and their 3 children.
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.
In the seventies, Wesselmann continued to explore the ideas and media which had preoccupied him during the Sixties. Most significantly, his large Standing Still Life series, composed of free standing shaped canvases, showed small intimate objects on a grand scale. Just as in his early work, he was able to use flat elements that paradoxically create a surprisingly convincing illusion of depth.
Although associated with Pop Art, Tom Wesselmann felt his real peers were the Modern painters of the 20th century, including Pablo Picasso and especially Henri Matisse. Similar to those modern masters, throughout his career, Wesselmann’s two most prolific subjects were the female nude and the still-life. Although his subjects stayed the same, he relentlessly experimented with them, re-invigorating a staid genre by using unorthodox media and executing them in a contemporary way that is always unmistakably his own.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s Wesselmann revisited his classic themes, feeling that he had more to say; 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.Download the artist biography