Over the summer I lived with Tom Wesselmann. More accurately, I lived with the work and specter of the late Cincinnati pop-art icon Tom Wesselmann, through the execution of several projects including an enormous outdoor mural downtown with teaching artists and teen-apprentices. It was easy to develop a personal connection with the late Cincinnati master, who shares my love of objects, painting, women, and was even an accomplished songwriter as well (a song of his appears in the soundtrack to Brokeback Mountain. movie only not the CD).
I also met his wife Claire, who was lovely. And during the mural project Wesselmann’s one-time studio assistant in New York, Kevin T. Kelly (who is also a well-known pop artist) was gracious enough to spend a little time with me and the apprentices.
Tonight, we were finally able to dedicate the mural, a project of non-profit Artworks, to the city of Cincinnati. The mural was created in preparation for the Wesselmann retrospective at the Cincinnati Art Museum, which opens this weekend. In addition to the dedication, as a way to have a more personal creative dialogue with Wesselmann’s body of work, Meredith Adamisin from Artworks and myself staged an tribute art exhibition, Wesselworks, that opened wednesday at Align Furniture Store across the street from the mural on Main. The exhibition features works by apprentice artists, teaching staff who worked on the mural, as well as my piece seen here, Breakfast Table.
Finally, I will be involved in two events at the Cincinnati Art Museum in the next few months: On November 15th I will lead a program for kids–Art in the Making: Pop Painting–at the Cincinnati Art Museum. On January 18th I will lead another program called Creative Encounters, for adults of all ages which is also one-part workshop one-part museum tour. So, it is safe to say that I have developed something of a relationship with Wesselmann.
The source image for the mural, Wesselmann’s Still Life No. 60 came into my life precisely as I had begun a new series of photographic still life’s and was considering the vast array of possible meanings that relationships between objects in a picture plane can create. I had also just serendipitously begun arranging items in stage-like compositions as well. So it was with great pleasure that I took on the mural project, created a painting in response, and continue to be engaged with Wesselmann’s work.
Although my recent photographs are borderline, my tribute painting is decidedly not pop-art. But Wesselmann and I have some similar formal interests including clarity of line and form, a love of high contrast and bold color on muted fields, etc.
For this tribute painting, I essentially took Wesselmann’s Still Life No. 60 and flipped it on its head. Instead of larger-than-life I worked small. Instead of flat I worked with naturalistic angles and lighting. I did, however, retain Wesselmann’s selection of objects, or at least five of six of the objects: the nail polish, sunglasses, lipstick, matchbook, and ring. But instead of the necklace beads I have included grapes. This is partly an inside joke–in the early summer I mistakenly identified the beads as grapes and presented the work to apprentices artists that way–but partly a reference to the Dutch Golden Age breakfast table paintings I have been looking at lately as well. My painting also references another American master from yet another generation, painter of beautiful trompe l’oeil still life’s William Harnett. These are my three muses lately. I have some other paintings in my studio that are more “for me” and feature the kinds of weird objects that have been appearing in my photos lately. But this one’s for Tom Wesselmann. May your match continue to smolder!
Nov. 15, 1-3 p.m.:Cincinnati Art Museum – Art in the Making: Pop Painting, for kids ages 6-12 and a parent. Reservations required. $10 per pair members, $20 nonmembers ($3/$6 for each additional person).
Jan. 18, 1 p.m.:Cincinnati Art Museum – Creative Encounters visits the Great American Nudes series, then creates figure drawing inspired by the exhibition. Reservations required. $10. $5 members and college students.