Tom Wesselmann’s Study for Seascape with Clouds (3D – filled in) is a striking rendition of a coastal landscape and a consummate evocation of the Pop art style with which the artist enshrined his vision of the American vernacular. Wesselmann devised a new artistic language which celebrated the energy and dynamism of postwar America, but in stark contrast to the gestural abstraction of his predecessors, Wesselamann adopted a crisper and cleaner aesthetic which aped the style of commercial printing to capture his vision of America. Along with Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, Wesselmann is considered to be one of the founder of the Pop Art movement, one of the most defining movements in twentieth century art history. His early work from the 1960s featured female nudes, domestic interiors and other American iconography and is contained in many important museum collections including the Museum of Modern Art, New York, Tate Gallery in London and Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza in Madrid.
Landscapes, particularly coastal scenes, were among Wesselmann’s favorite subject matter. Here, the beach, blue sea and verdant countryside are set in three-dimensional relief—giving this painting an added physical dimension. Here, just as Warhol did with his iconic soup cans and Lichtenstein did with his comic book heroines, the artist depicts his landscape with minimal means. With a selected palette of bold colors and simple graphic gestures he produces this bucolic scene. A large swathe of warm, golden sand spreads across the lower portion of the canvas, to be met by an equally expansive area of dark blue sea. Where the two passages come together, the energy of the surf is depicted in lighter blue tones with two undulating ribbons of color depicting the ebb and flow of the waves.
Although sculptural in appearance, Study for Seascape with Clouds also possesses an intimate quality due to the strong, graphic quality of Wesselmann’s lines. The artist began drawing while he was stationed in rural northeastern Kansas during his time in the army as a young man. He found this period to be “grim and boring” and passed the time by teaching himself to draw (C. W. Glenn, ‘Wesselmann and Drawing,’ Tom Wesselmann, exh. cat., Rome, 2005, p. 245). Initially interested in pursuing a career as a cartoonist, his pared down style soon began to lead him in other directions and in the late 1950s, during his senior year at the Cooper Union art school in New York, he finally gave up the idea of becoming a cartoonist to pursue the idea of becoming a painter. But despite new conversion to oils, he never lost his love of and appreciation for the aesthetic purity of drawing. One of Wesselmann's early influences was the Abstract Expressionist painter Willem de Kooning. "I wanted to paint like de Kooning, but I couldn't...it wasn't my language. But I was so excited by the ideas of de Kooning that I was determined to find my own way" (as quoted in S. Hunter, Tom Wesselmann, 1994, p. 16). Rather than realize his subjects in a similar manner to his hero, Wesselmann realized them in a flatly graphic, style reminiscent of the advertising culture of the 1960’s.
While contemporaries such as Warhol and Lichtenstein sought to celebrate the ubiquitous nature of the image, Wesselmann remained tied to reveling in the creativity and skill of the artists themselves, whilst at the same remaining resolutely contemporary. His paintings, and his landscapes in particular, are crisply delineated, and used to structure the composition in formal terms as well as narrative terms. Wesselmann's paintings cover large swaths of canvas and give an excellent view into the artist's adventures with composition. The result is a pastoral scene executed in joyful, dynamic color resulting in a journey to a nostalgic summertime fantasy.