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February 15 - April 5, 2008 at Forum Gallery, West Los Angeles

by Kathy Zimmerer

“Mixed Bouquet with Leger," 1983,
silkscreen on paper, 54 1/2 x 51".

"Study for a bedroom Painting #56," 1982, pencil
and thinned liquitex on paper, 31 3/4 x 50 7/8".

"Monica Nude with Cezanne," 1993,
silkscreen on paper, 40 1/2 x 57 1/4".

"Study for a Smoker," 1978, colored
pencil on tracing paper, 5 1/8 x 3 3/8".

"Birthday Bouquet," enamel
on laser cut steel, 42 x 54".

Pop Art lovers unite, a treat is in store as the late Tom Wesselmann’s stylized nudes and his sprightly still-lifes from the late seventies through nineties energize the walls. Bursting with primary colors and a perky eroticism, his prints, sketches, paintings and his enamel pieces on steel are deceptively simple images that are complex in composition and imagery. A huge admirer of Matisse and de Kooning and their fluid and variously abstracted nudes, Wesselmann reveled in the contours of the female nude which he condensed into iconic logos of eroticism.  

Famous for his large scale and highly charged “Great American Nudes” and “Still Life” series at the peak of New York Pop Art scene, in 1964 Wesselmann began his series of “Bedroom Paintings” and ‘Smokers,” which continued through the eighties and are both represented here by noteworthy examples. In the painting “Study for a Bedroom #56,” two nipples are outlined against an open window with the drapes blowing, the curve of the breast only indicated by negative space. His cut out nudes have a monumental presence yet are dynamic, with all kinds of layers and patterns that keep shifting, probably in debt to Matisse, who was a genius at mixing patterns and a stylized reality. In “Study for a Bedroom Painting #73,” Wesselmann takes this dichotomy of flesh and pattern one step further by having the nude’s lush contours frame a richly decorated swatch of fabric. Also allied to these pieces is “Study for a Bedroom Painting #57,” where the languid curves of the nude form a triangular view of the room beyond her. This thematic conceit continues in “Study for a Drop Out,” in which the nude provides a racy, flesh toned framework for brilliantly colored geometric forms in bright blue, tangerine, magenta and crimson.  In “Study for Bedroom Painting (Dropout)” the two outlined breasts pop out against an interior backdrop of bright blue floral wallpaper and a painting framed in bright red. The rest of the body exists only as several contoured lines.

His wondrous still lifes are lush and varied, ranging from the vivid hues and jazzy rhythms of the print “Mixed Bouquet with Leger” to the entrancing “Birthday Bouquet,” where the flowers pop out in an intense array of color. Many times Wesselmann’s audacious nudes become closely wedded to his still lifes.

A masterful draftsman, his fluid touch is everywhere, especially in a silkscreen ode to Manet’s “Olympia,” “Nude with Bouquet and Stockings,” where he deftly captures both the sensuous beauty of his nude and the elegance of the flowers. Another silkscreen, “Monica Nude with a Cezanne” also has the linear freedom and joyous abandon that comes from a few well placed scribbles that vibrate off the paper. “Study for a Smoker” epitomizes his approach. Although it is a fragmentary image, he abstracted and integrated the forms so that it becomes a self-contained cut-out composed of whirling smoke, erotic red lips, all topped by the crimson glow of the cigarette.   

Although his nudes are faceless except for their ruby red lips and sometimes exist only as tightly sprung breasts and pubic hair, Wesselmann’s vibrant line and multi-layered compositions are infused with life and humanity. His singular high wire artistic intensity combines linear animation with dazzling color and a keen observation of the human form to create Pop icons.