Executed in 1962, Still Life #13 forms part of an early series of collage paintings that marked Tom Wesselmann's quick and sudden entry into the controversial role of Pop art figurehead. The painting's use of bright colors, sharp graphics and prosaic subject-matter expands upon the Great American Nude paintings that Wesselmann had begun the previous year, in which he had placed highly eroticised female nudes within interiors that reflected the realities of modern urban living. With these works, Wesselmann mixed conventional oil painting with collage elements to resuscitate what many contemporary artists then considered a dead and irrelevant convention, especially amidst a climate that championed painterly abstraction and scorned representative art. Along with Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenburg and Roy Lichtenstein, Wesselmann felt that he had little to add to the triumphs of Abstract Expressionism and he instead turned to figuration and the visual potential of popular imagery as a means of finding a new artistic direction.
Still Life #13 represents Wesselmann's bold move to create a new type of genre painting for a modern day America: one that celebrates with unashamed idealism and patriotism the shining consumer lifestyle that was the product of the American dream. Like the trompe l'oeil interiors depicted in the Great American Nudes, Still Life #13 forms a brilliant portrayal of American hopes and desires through the ironic and witty display of consumer goods against a vivid, patriotic colour scheme. The invitation to consume, to take pleasure in the act of eating, drinking and smoking under the watchful eye of the Statue of Liberty, is made all the more alluring by applying the bright commercial labels from actual packages against a flesh pink silhouette of their original form. Wesselmann's use of this colour deliberately evokes the kind of sensual desire typically portrayed by his reclining nudes. Yet, whilst the painting aims to appeal to the pleasure principle within all of us, its strange combination of the real and unreal also cunningly acts to underline the fictional, emblematic nature of pictures. In this way, Still Life #13 modernises and extends upon Rene Magritte's duplicitous world of imagery that so closely resembles our own yet constantly points out its position as an illusion or construct.