There is an air of sensuous mystery to Study for Small Smoker #4, with the smoke curving wispily from the full and isolated mouth of the woman. Painted in 1969, there is a film noir atmosphere to Study for Small Smoker #4, and this is strangely heightened by the lack of information, by the number of questions that we are faced with rather than answers-- whose mouth is this? Where is she smoking? Placing the work into the context of so many of Wesselmann's other pictures, we are even forced to wonder if this disjointed mouth is enjoying a post-coital cigarette, hinting at an unrevealed world of sex and sensuality.
Wesselmann first painted a smoker in 1967, only two years before this work was executed (and one wonders if it is a coincidence that this was also the year that The Graduate was released, with femme fatale Anne Bancroft smoking as she smoulders). He had been drawing studies for his Mouth series, with his friend Peggy Sarno as the model, when during a break she lit a cigarette. Wesselmann kept drawing, and these pictures evolved into the Smoker series. Surreally stranded on the canvas, the isolated mouth and cigarette in Study for Small Smoker #4 are imbued with a compellingly iconic potency. This is a sublimated mouth that could be taken straight from an advert, recalling the collage elements that often featured in his works, reinforcing their Pop credentials. In this way, Study for Small Smoker #4 becomes a floating, objectified yet celebrated image from the world of popular iconography, tying into many of the spheres of reference to which the modern viewer is accustomed, from film to posters to magazines.