While earlier versions of Wesselmann's Great American Nude paintings were careful collages with figure and foreground given equal prominance, as the series evolved in the 1960s, the compositions became more about geometry. In 1966, the year that Great American Nude #85 was executed, Wesselmann began cropping the backgrounds from his images, and incorporating body parts into abstracted compositions.
But even when divested of accoutrements and background, every one of Wesselmann's nudes is undeniably American. In Great American Nude #85, the figure's tan-lines, which one could argue were invented by the liberated American woman who suns at the beach in a two-piece, are given the artist's full attention. They are crisply delineated, and used to structure the composition in terms of formal terms as well as narrative. Discreet status symbols that only a few are privy to, these bikini lines announce the no small amount of effort that the American woman has put into her leisured lifestyle. Wesselmann's charcoal drawings for the series, with massive blocks of charcoal covering large swaths of paper not unlike Renaissance cartoons, give an excellent view into the artist's experiment with light and dark and composition. Unlike the boldly colored works in the series, in black and white the effect is cinematic, a nostalgic American summertime fantasy.