Tom Wesselmann’s visual lexicon is one of the most iconic and instantly recognizable of any artist working in the twentieth century. A leading figure in the American Pop Art movement, he rose to prominence in the 1960s, working in a style that uniquely blended contemporary images and pop culture with classical representation. The artist explored iconic subjects like the female nude, the landscape and the still life in new and innovative ways. The resulting paintings were boldly-colored, often erotically-charged, and always assertive. Perhaps the best known of these are his paintings from the Great American Nude series of the early 1960s, in which the female nude is portrayed in intense, bright (often patriotic) colors and exaggerated flattened forms. The images created in these, and other similar works, have come to be synonymous with Wesselmann’s name and style.
“Face #1” is an impressively sized oil on shaped canvas, executed in 1966, a rich and seminal period of the artist’s career. During this time, the artist focused his interest on the nude even more specifically, moving away from a complete representation of the figure and concentrating on specific, highly sexualized elements of the female form, such as the mouth and breast. Wesselmann’s decision to use shaped canvases to portray these forms gave these paintings a sculptural quality, which – in turn – imbued them with a particularly active energy that served to heighten their bold sensuality. “Face No. 1” is an excellent example of the artist’s work of this period. The woman’s face is only partially shown, the artist choosing to emphasize her mouth, with her bright red lips erotically parted and painted with fetishistic focus against a highly sexualized cut-out relief. The painting calls to mind Leonard Cohen’s famous 1974 song, “Chelsea Hotel No. 2”, in which Cohen reminisces about a sexual encounter he shared with Janis Joplin at the hotel years earlier.
Like so many artists of the time, Wesselmann was drawn to the creative haven of the Chelsea Hotel, and found friendship with Stanley Bard. His fondness for Stanley is clear from the dedication on “Face No. 1”, inscribed on the stretcher bar verso, which reads, “For Stanley with affection – Tom Wesselmann.”
Wesselmann’s work has received significant attention in recent years. A screenprint of a different series of “Study for Blue Nude” was exhibited at the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s “International Pop” show in early 2016, and again at “A Different Kind of Woman,” an exhibition of 11 of Wesselmann’s post-collage works at the Almine Rech Gallery in Paris. The exhibition debuted the restaging of Wesselmann’s key performance piece “Bedroom Tit Box” in Paris for the first time, and included many works from the same series as “Face No. 1”.
Inspired by his 1970 exhibit at the Sidney Janis Gallery in New York, “A Different Kind of Woman” ran from October through December of last year.
Freeman’s has a long and successful history selling works by Wesselmann, and invites you to join us on May 16th as we look to find appreciative buyers for these two exceptional pieces.