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Press Release

Honor Fraser is pleased to present a retrospective of works by Tom Wesselmann.

This exhibition brings together a collection of works that span the career of this Pop Icon. From his brash and bold series of American Nudes to slick and evocative Smokers Studies, the exhibition highlights the career of one of the countries breakthrough voices from the Sixties.

Growing up in suburban Ohio, Wesselmann came to painting late, first starting to cartoon while enlisted in the Korean War. After returning from the army and with the support of the G.I. Bill, he attended the University of Cincinnati and received a degree in psychology and began studying art. Finding his voice in cartooning, he was able to sell his work to magazines and at the urging of an art professor in Ohio, he moved to New York to study at the Cooper Union. There he started to collage and was trained under the electric shadow of Abstract Expressionism. Wrestling with all of these new influences, Wesselmann fought to find his artistic voice, focusing on a new path in a return to a figurative framework. Experimenting with the boundaries of the painted plane, he flattened images and gave his work an immediacy and slick monumental feel no matter what scale he chose to work in.

Anchoring the exhibition is Great American Nude #38, 1962, a spectacular example of Wesselmann’s early work. The formal composition of the painting places a smiling nude amidst a sea of red, white and blue. The work meshes familiar icons, a 50’s pin-up girl, an army poster and a distant view of an exotic vacation locale. Instead of overtly erotic, his portrayal of the female nude is raw and brazenly in your face, a thematic thread he continues through the following decades of his career.

Stemming from his love of collage, Wesselmann dips into the visual imagery of Americana, creating a patchwork of the familiar that creates works of arresting color and form. Still Life #49, 1964, a three-dimensional collage of a Seven-up bottle and orange, is an exemplary piece by the artist and encapsulates this play on commonplace objects. His still-lifes are catalogs of graphic design, advertising logos, and billboards, all evidence of daily life.

Though Wesselmann’s work matured in the same era as Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, James Rosenquist and Claes Oldenburg, unlike these artists he chose not to transform his imagery through a filter, favoring a clear expression of the figural and visual form. His work is rooted in the American experience with an iconography reflecting the charged era of pop sensibility coupled with his deliberate honesty.