TOM WESSELMANN (1931-2004)
TOM WESSELMANN (1931-2004)
TOM WESSELMANN (1931-2004)
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TOM WESSELMANN (1931-2004)

Seascape #29

TOM WESSELMANN (1931-2004)
Seascape #29
signed and dated 'Wesselmann 67' (on the overlap); signed again, titled and dated again 'TOM WESSELMANN 1967 SEASCAPE #29' (on the stretcher)
oil on shaped canvas
108 1⁄2 x 67 1⁄4 in. (275.6 x 170.8 cm.)
Painted in 1967.
Estate of the artist, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 2013

New York, Yvon Lambert Gallery, Tom Wesselmann: Drop Out, December 2007-January 2008, no. 5 (illustrated).

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Lot Essay

‘Wesselmann’s nudes, rather than perpetuating pre-feminist attitudes, do exactly the opposite. By ludicrously exaggerating these American myths, the artist, even without a conscious agenda of sexual politics, nevertheless exposes them, much as Lichtenstein parodies the no-less one-dimensional macho myths of the American Male’s fantasies about being a fighter pilot or a baseball player. With his fellow pop artists, Wesselmann forces us to confront the things we once took for granted’.
(R. Rosenblum, Nudes and Abstracts, New York, 2003, p. 4)

Spanning over nine feet tall, Tom Wesselmann’s Seascape #29 is a testament to the artist’s grandiose yet supple, billboard style. The present work exists on both a positive and negative plane – the exculpated vision of a breast is readily apparent to the viewer. Left empty, the unvisualised image instead materializes in the mind’s eye. Wesselmann pays careful attention to the curves of flesh, which find their formal equivalent in the soft undulations of the clouds that occupy the background. Somewhere between Edward Hopper and Georgia O’Keefe, Wesselmann renders the natural environment in such a way that it reflects human psychology and the unspoken innerworkings of the human mind.
There is a surreal tenderness throughout all of Wesselmann’s work that comforts and makes approachable his unabashed subject matter. Equally earthy and ethereal, Wesselmann triumphantly reveals--and revels in--his reverence for the female form as well as the aesthetic power of color, form, and composition. A deep, brilliant blue dominates the upper part of the picture plane, reminding the viewer of the sky it represents but also of the depths of the ocean that it reflects. The rouge of a lone nipple contrasts with the azure sky, appearing to almost emerge from the canvas, an effect that is once again amplified by the excised section that dominates the left of the painting. Two simple bands of blue and green stand in for the earth and the ocean. The literal sea, from which the painting derives its title, occupies an incredibly small portion of the composition. Wesselmann’s sea – the boundless, the unknowable, the endlessly engrossing--is found instead in the pursuit of pure beauty and honest articulation of form.
Seascape #29 contains many stylistic and thematic similarities with Wesselmann’s well-known Great American Nudes series. This series can be seen as both a continuation of and a conscious tweaking of the Odalisque theme within the lineage of western painting. In Wesselmann’s view, there had not yet been painted any great American nudes, such as the scores of works made for the salons in 19th century France. In many ways photography, film, and mass media publication had taken the soul of the nude from the hands of painters. Through his own method, Wesselmann’s Great American Nude Series represents an epic embarkation of stylistic reclamation and self-definition.
Wesselmann’s works are defined in part by their flatness--there is no denying that this is a two-dimensional image. The artist pushes this notion even further by removing a portion of the Seascape #29. Many of Wesselmann’s paintings incorporate readymade objects, such as telephones and radiators, jutting out from the painting to render obvious the illusionistic deceit proffered by the world of images. In Seascape #29, the artist shows that he is just as adept at unexpected subtraction as he is with addition. In the vein of a trompe-l'œil, the viewer is made to realize the figure that dominates the composition is actually a cut-out. What they presumed was a reality was a silhouette populated by their own preconceptions.
Wesselmann’s paintings absorb viewers through their unique mix of seriousness and jubilance. To look at Seascape #29 is to look into the artist’s mind. A female form is the integral, defining form of a landscape that evokes a feeling of both calm and focus. Placed in forced perspective, the figure feels like a monument raised from the sea. Not one to be pigeon-holed into a particular art movement, Wesselmann constantly shirked critic’s definitions of his being “Pop” or a “Pop Artist”. 'In all of my dimensional work I use the third dimension to intensify the two-dimensional experience. It becomes part of a vivid two-dimensional image. The third dimension, while actually existing, is only an illusion in terms of the painting, which remains by intent in a painting and not a sculptural context' (Wesselmann, quoted in S. Stealingworth, Tom Wesselmann, New York, 1980, p. 37). Nevertheless, Wesselmann ranks amongst the likes of Pop icons Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein. Seascape #29 is a truly thrilling work which totally embodies the artist’s iconic style while intimately detailing his creative ethos.

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