Tom Wesselmann

Smoker, 1 (Mouth, 12) 1967
Tom Wesselmann (1931-2004)
*Image originally uploaded by the science of design.

IS: Did you get any complaints on your mouth paintings at all?

TW: No. A lot of people refer to the mouth paintings -- I think it's a cliche -- as being erotic, because the smoke is erotic. You see, erotic to me is sex; erotic isn't convoluted curves to me or things like that. So I've always had that difference of opinion with a lot of people out there.

IS: Oh.

TW: Now, I could find the parted lips somewhat erotic, I guess. To a certain extent I'm fooling myself because I'm saying these things aren't erotic because I don't want them to be erotic. Because I didn't create them to be erotic. It's true I've maybe spoken of them as being potentially erotic -- no, that was another thing. It was a post-coital hand, a painting I still haven't done yet. It was a hand lying there with a cigarette in it, like a post-coital cigarette, a corny cliche sort of thing. That is more erotic to me than the smoker's eroticism which is an accidental by-product because I didn't do them to be erotic. I did them because I was intrigued with smoke and coming in close on the mouth. I didn't start the mouth paintings to be erotic. I started them to be just a mouth, that's all. In fact they weren't erotic -- they were a smiling mouth, a grinning mouth, and then there was an open mouth. That was meant to be erotic. I was doing a mouth with a tongue out. I never finished that thing. That was meant to be erotic. So the erotic came into it, but it (...) runs in and out of it.

Oral history: Tom Wesselmann interviewed by Irving Sandler.

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