The enormous sandwich and pack of cigarettes in Still Life Number 36 (1964) reflect Tom Wesselmann’s nonhierarchical approach to subject matter and technique. He believed that anything could be art, including the ordinary consumer items that fill our pockets and kitchen cabinets. In 1962, Wesselmann began a series of large-scale still lifes that incorporated fragments of discarded commercial billboards, which he initially scavenged from trash cans but later procured in new, pristine condition directly from advertising agencies. The larger-than-life proportions of the objects in Still Life Number 36 at first seem to celebrate the surfeit of commercial goods in America’s postwar consumer culture. Yet the layers of collage and painted areas bring together incongruent depictions of reality, creating tensions in the composition that Wesselmann described as “reverberation.
Wayne Thiebaud’s interest in investigating the properties of each medium lead him to create a series of works of the same subject using different techniques. In the pictured watercolor of Nine Jelly Apples (1964) he used a wide range of pink and purple hues to suggest the luminous surface of the confection. In the black ink version, he relied instead on the vivid dark and light contrast to emphasize shininess. In the pencil version, however, the exacting precision suggests the brittle surface of hardened sugar.
While living and working in Paris, from 1948 to 1954, Ellsworth Kelly (1923 – 2015) developed an abstract vocabulary of line, form, and color and began is career-long investigation into how figure and ground are perceived in nonrepresentational painting. He became interested in the way that painting engages with the architectural space that it inhabits; rather than attempting to simulate three-dimensional perspective in a composition, he instead considered the wall to be a kind of ‘ground’ and the painting itself a figure on it.
In Orange Green (1964), made the following decade when he was back in New York, he established the figure-ground relationship on the canvas itself through the careful balance of two areas of color: the truncated orange egg-shape is the figure and the bright green color that surrounds it functions as its background.
Irving Penn purchased his first of many twin-lens Rolleiflex cameras in 1938. He acquired this one in 1964 and used it and other similar models for portrait sittings for the next four decades. The camera is topped with a modified Hasselblad chimney viewfinder and mounted on a Tiltall pan/tilt head above a table tripod of the artist’s own design.
Photographed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC.