Work of the Week! WOW! Tom Wesselmann – Monica Lying on One Elbow

Tom Wesselmann
Monica Lying on One Elbow
Alkyd oil on cutout steel
8 x 13 in.
Edition of 25
Signed and numbered on verso

About the work:

Considered by many to be a Pop artist, Tom Wesselmann would rather be called an artist of the post-Matisse era, according to his wife Claire. His works recall Matisse, in a contemporary setting.

Nothing can be truer, as evidence by this week’s Work of the Week! WOW! Monica Lying on One Elbow with Robe by Tom Wesselmann is a steel cut out painted alkyd oils created in 1986, and the edition was completed in 1997. We can see how it can be compared to Matisse’s Odalisques.

In the 80’s, Wesslemann started toying with the idea of capturing the spontaneity of his sketches, complete with false lines and errors, and realize them in the permanence of metal. He called these cut outs “Steel Drawings”. When the first steel cut was realized, Wesselmann commented, “I anticipated how exciting it would be for me to get a drawing back in steel. I could hold it in my hands. I could pick it up by the lines, off the paper. It was so exciting. It was like suddenly I was a whole new artist.”

Odalisques were the most popular subject of Matisse’s Nice period, during the 1920s. They appear in diverse poses in innumerable canvases: reclining, lounging, seated, or standing, frequently with their arms raised or folded behind the head. Dressed or semi-dressed in exotic attire, they are placed against a decorative background of richly patterned fabrics and oriental rugs and surrounded by oriental accoutrements. Matisse’s primary model for these depictions, from 1920 to 1927, was Henriette Darricarrière, a young woman skilled in the arts of ballet, piano, violin, and painting who lived near Matisse’s studio.

The model’s sculpturesque body, languorously stretching across a couch, exudes sensuality and carnality, enhanced by her seductive attire or painterly patterned backgrounds. The mood is clearly palpable. Yet, contemplating the work, one gets the impression that the artist somehow distanced himself from the erotic content of the picture while leaving the excitement of recognition to the viewer.

All this can be said of Wesselmann’s images of Monica, who was Tom Wesselmann’s favorite muse. This steel drawing cut out, Monica Lying on One Elbow with Robe, is a modern day Odalisque.

Here the viewer is drawn to Monica, by her seductive reclining position, and her half opened robe, exposing just enough, suggesting sensuality. Leaving no attention to detail behind, Wesselmann goes through great length to make sure that Monica’s robe is a full of little details such as the multicolored flowers on the lapels, and cuffs. This can be thought of as a contemporary tip of the hat to Matisse’s patterned backgrounds in his painting.

It is this detail that makes this particular steel cut the most rare and desirable of all the editioned steel cutouts. Monica Lying on One Elbow with Robe is considered the most sought after steel cut.

WOW! – Work of the Week – Roy Lichtenstein – Nude, from Brushstroke Figures

Roy Lichtenstein
Nude, from Brushstroke Figures
Lithograph, Waxtype, Woodcut and Screenprint
56 1/4 x 32 1/2 in.
Edition of 60
Pencil signed, dated and numbered

About the work:

The Nude and the Brushstroke are two classic and timeless pillars of Art History. The Nude figure has been used throughout time in art to express the ideals of the female and male bodies. The theme might evoke Boticelli’s The Birth of Venus or Michelangelo’s David, masterpieces for their representation of anatomical proportions as well as the technical skill required to produce them. The Brushstroke can be deemed the most basic and central element in two-dimensional art, yet it is hardly the first technique that comes to mind when considering Pop Art.

Roy Lichtenstein, one of Pop Art greats, strove to leave as little a trace of his hand in his work. His works carry a distinctive, mechanical style derived from mass printing, leading to his name becoming synonymous with popular comic-book imagery, Ben-Day dots and a primary color palette. Ironically, Lichtenstein began his career exploring abstract expressionism, a movement he would revisit at great length.

Abstract expressionism employed the brushstroke as a vehicle to communicate feelings with spontaneous motion. Lichtenstein, who always approached his art-making with humor, turned the spontaneous brushstroke on its head.

In 1989, the artist released his Brushstroke Figures series, from which this week’s Work of the Week! (WOW!) Nude stems.

Nude, from Brushstroke Figures is a playful balance between Abstract Expressionism and Lichtenstein’s brand of Pop, making the techniques used to be the focal point of the work over the subject. The center piece of Nude is composed of brushstroke-like elements, depicted as though created with a brush. These strokes, however, are the complete opposite of the abstract expressionist stroke. They are a methodically planned artistic operation, a time-consuming task made to appear as if produced in an instant. The painterly-like strokes lend to the piece a dense abstract complexity, which emphasizes the brushstroke over the subject it is used to depict.

The work also carries the unmistakable trademark characteristics of a Lichtenstein: Ben-Day dots and slanted, alternating white and red lines, in addition to Lichtenstein’s interpretation of the brushstroke, simulated in a uniform color and flat finish.

Lichtenstein takes away from the subject matter through the painterly brushstrokes, but simultaneously brings our attention back to it through his use of the slanted red and white lines as a background. This feature has an optical effect of making the subject appear as though it is floating in a three-dimensional space, entirely detached from from its setting. Every element of this work is calculated and placed.

Lichtenstein was a was very innovative printmaker, and never shied away from experimenting. Nude, from Brushstroke Figures makes use of a variety of printing methods, lithography, woodcut, screenprinting, and waxtype, a process similar to screenprinting, where beeswax is used, rather than traditional printers ink. Lichtenstein experimented with materials to create more depth and interest, and in this case, asks the viewer to reconsider their preconceived notion of the nude.

WOW! – Work of the Week 9/14/15

Tom Wesselmann, Fast Sketch Red Stockinged Nude


Tom Wesselmann, Fast Sketch Red Stockinged Nude, 1991


 Tom Wesselmann
Fast Sketch Red Stockinged Nude
26 x 36 5/8 in.
Edition of 100                                                                                                              Pencil signed & numbered


About This Work:

Considered by many to be a Pop artist, Tom Wesselmann would rather be called an artist of the post-Matisse era, according to his wife Claire.  Nothing can be truer, as evidence by his screenprint entitled Fast Sketch RedStockinged Nude.  This work screams of Matisse, in a contemporary setting.

After a dream concerning the phrase “red, white, and blue”, Wesselmann spent his entire career trying to depict the Great American Nude.  Many of these nudes show an accentuated, more explicit, sensuality. Often times, Wesselmann did not even need to paint the entire female body to exude sensuality.  He would simply depict a woman’s mouth with intensely red painted lips with cigarette smoke coming out of it, or red painted fingernails holding a smoking cigarette to imply or suggest sexual fulfillment.  At the same time, Wesselmannincorporated the use of negative space (the white or colorless area) as the image, and the positive (use of color) to direct our eyes to this negative space.

Fast Sketch Red Stockinged Nude is a perfect example of Wesselmann’s concept.  Here the viewer is drawn to this modern day Odalisque, by her vibrant red stockings, but the main image is that of the negative space.  The choice of the color red for her stockings suggest sensuality, as well as her reclining position.  Is she just relaxing with her hand on her breast, or does he suggest a form of titillation?  Lets leave that for the viewer to interpret.

In the early 1980’s Wasselmann was consumed with the idea of creating a drawing by using steel.  These were know as his “steelcuts”  His fast sketched designs would be the basis for these works.  These fast sketches would enable him to form, and cut his images out of steel, while still maintaining a resembled gestural brush stroke, or a drawn line.

Again, Fast Sketch Red Stockinged Nude is created with this technique in mind.  The simplistic clean lines reduces the work, where it could be considered pop art, but the real intention of the artist was to simplify the work enough just to accentuate the sensuality and sexuality of his women.

About The Artist:

Tom Wesselmann was born in Cincinnati in 1931, and studied art first in Cincinnati, then in New York at the Cooper Union.   When he was a student at Cooper Union, he was much influenced by Abstract Expressionism, especially Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock. However, he turned away from that style because he determined these artists had become so introspective that there was little room for creative exploration by others.

His reaction took him to Pop Art, the other extreme of action painting to a tightly controlled style and subject matter that was mundane–the antithesis of psychological complexities. Wesselmann, like Andy Warhol and Wayne Thiebaud, asserted that everyday objects had significance unto themselves and that they were worthy of depiction because of a common understanding about what they were.  Wesselmann was one of the contributors to the three original portfolios that launched the Pop Art Movement

Thus, along with Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and Claes Oldenburg, Wesselmann started experiments in 1959 with small, abstract collages. Then, in 1960, he adopted advertising images to make bold amusing still lifes and interiors, collages and assemblages using commonplace household items, and often, a highly stylized female nude.  This is what brought him fame and notoriety as a founder of American POP ART.

In the late 1960s an increasingly dominant eroticism emerged in works, with its more literal but still intense colours and tight, formal composition. The pictorial elements, exaggerated in their arabesque forms and arbitrary coloring, became significantly larger in scale in his works of the 1970s.   Enormous, partially free-standing still-lifes moved into sculptural space, and finally became discrete sculptures of sheet metal. In the 1980s he returned to works for the wall with cut-out steel or aluminium drawings.

He has pioneered a number of art forms now strongly associated with him, namely his ‘drop outs’ where negative shapes become positive shapes and his ‘cutouts’ which utilize laser cut metal to create extraordinary three-dimensional drawings. He too, has been a remarkable printmaker having created large, spectacular silkscreens and lithographs.

His works are in most major museums around the world, including the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum in New York, the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington D.C., the Walker ArtCenter and the Minneapolis Institute of Fine Arts in Minneapolis, the Chrysler Museum in Norfolk, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, the Worcester Art Museum, the Princeton University Art Museum, the Atkins Museum of Fine Arts in Kansas City MO, the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, the Cincinnati Art Museum, and many others. His works can also be seen in important public museums in Germany, France, Denmark.

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