Lines and Colors art blog

George Tooker
When I was a teenager, I subscribed to a rather bizarre and eclectic experimental magazine called Avant Garde, published by Ralph Ginzburg. The value of its contents varied, but I remember one thing about it above all else — in one of the issues it introduced me to the work of American painter George Tooker.

Compared at times to Andrew Wyeth and at times to Edward Hopper, Tooker’s work defies being pigeonholed. People have tried to make his individualistic square peg fit in the round holes of Surrealism, Symbolism, Magic Realism and God knows what other isms, without clear success.

Tooker’s paintings, painstakingly and deliberately rendered in the demanding Renaissance medium of egg tempera, evoke loneliness, alienation, and the dehumanizing forces of modern society. Some of his works are well known, almost iconic images, though his name is not a household word.

His enigmatic scenes of eclipsed faces, half glimpsed figures and slack bodied individuals with haunted expressions seem to portray people resigned to their fate as the invisible vampires of modern existence drain away their life and humanity — though there are occasional glimpses of light and life — disconcerting, but powerful and unforgettably resonant images.

Tooker died last Sunday, March 27, 2011, at the age of 90. Unfortunately, there isn’t a really good source on the web for a large number of Tooker’s works.

Ten Dreams probably has the best selection of Tooker’s work on the web, but the viewing method is deliberately terrible. You have to launch each image in a full-screen pop-up window, then mouse over the image area and wait for the image to load in order to see it (because you’re a thief, you see), then close the window and select the next image.

(I suppose they think they’re making it hard for people to grab the images with these shenanigans; they need to do a little more research to understand that they’re only discouraging the most casual users from getting them, and in the process alienating many potential visitors who will find the site too much of a PITA to deal with; but I digress…)

The largest images of Tooker’s work I’ve found are on the Smithsonian American Art Museum including The Waiting Room.

Next best for large images are Terra Foundation (one zoomable) and Sothey’s sold archives (two zoomable).

There are print collections of Tooker’s work: George Tooker, by Robert Cozzolino, Marshall N. Price and M. Melissa Wolfe, is in print, you may find others used, like George Tooker by Thomas H. Garver, George Tooker: Paintings, 1947-1973 and George Tooker.

There is a Cleveland Museum of Art documentary on YouTube in three parts, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

[Notice via ArtDaily]


20 responses to “George Tooker”

  1. k.pain Avatar

    wow! I had never even heard of him. And his work is stunning. Thanks!

  2. Great facial expressions. I have always had a hard time with the detail and expression with faces. In your paintings I can really tell what they are feeling

  3. Even the one of the two young women with lanterns is haunting emotionally, but because of the light – I find it almost soothing to look at after viewing the others.

    Thanks for another great find, Charley.

  4. It is so haunting, I just can’t stop looking at these pieces. Each one has an amazing story that holds on.

  5. Brrr! These remind me of nightmares I used to have about subway platforms.

  6. Sue Berg Avatar
    Sue Berg

    Thank you so much, Charley, for this tribute to a great artist.

  7. Steve Talley Avatar
    Steve Talley

    I am grateful to have seen the traveling exhibit of Tookers at the Columbus (Ohio) Museum of art 2 years ago. It was really striking to see almost all the iconic panels along with some working drawings and some of his contemporaries’ works.

    The columbus museum has a dvd that went with the show that is probably still available that includes the mentioned youtube videos. You get to hear an interview of Tooker and some footage inside his house of him preparing pigments and working.

    It is fascinating that he had enough patrons to support his work all those year even though the expensive art journals pretty much ignored him and other various realists.

  8. I think I found images via his obit in the NY Times. Last night, I went searching through the FAMSF’s data base to see if they had any graphic works by him. They do but it was difficult to find them; whoever designs these data bases doesn’t seem to understand computer logic. Put in a search term for “Tooker, George” and get hundreds of hits for anybody with a “George” in their name. But I found at least three and put them up in today’s post. Your point about him having enough patrons to support him, in spite of the lack of critical acclaim, is a very astute one. It shows that there are buyers in the art world that don’t go for whatever is the latest hot thing.

  9. Fascinating work, I have only seen a couple of his paintings over the years, so thanks for the links Charlie.

    I like his use of color saturation played against the theme of his work… instead of a more obvious dark, somber color palette.

  10. My big regret is I could not see the collection at the Columbus Art Museum. I don’t know if it’s the overall despair and mood that I respond to – or the extraordinary execution of his paintings – I regard Tooker as one of the greats. Thank you for this post Charley.

  11. Oh – and thank you for the link. I always enjoy your posts and this that your website is one of the treasures of the Internet. I know that when I come here, I will always find an interesting, insightful post. Then, I get side tracked by all the links on your side bar and emerge, hours later, with more ideas and images than I can process.

  12. Robert Johnson Avatar
    Robert Johnson

    You and I must be close in age. I subscribed to ADVANT GARDE as a teenager and remember Mr. Tooker well. Seems I found out about the mag from PLAYBOY, which surprisingly my prudish mother let me read.

    Those pictures bring back fond memories. Thank you, thank you so much.

    Robert Johnson

  13. What is also important to point out is the egg tempera process is super slow and laborious with color built up from layer upon layer of glazes from egg whites. It probably took him months to produce one painting. If Tooker wasn’t so long lived his body of work wouldn’t have been nearly as large.

  14. R.I.P. Mr. Tooker.

    I discovered George Tooker’s work years ago when Bud Plant carried a book on Tooker’s art in his catalog. I ordered it based on the images reproduced in the catalog and it quickly became one of my favorite art books. Years later, I was able to see a few Tooker originals in person here in Chicago and they blew me away. There is an irreproducible glow to the paintings. They’re beautiful.

    The book I’m referring to is titled George Tooker and was published by Pomegranate Artbooks. It’s worth seeking out!

  15. I always found Tooker’s work amazingly communicative. I appreciate that he is presenting an psychological and emotional message in addition to a beautifully rendered image.

    It is also interesting that in some of his later paintings (the last two images of this post, for example) he begins to express the a sense of connection and luminosity rather than the isolation that he is known for.

  16. Thanks for featuring these wonderful paintings. His work had heart and soul, and he never compromised his vision. I include him as a hero of mine as much for his integrity as a human being, as his amazing talent as an artist.

  17. Thank you for listing where to see the best close-ups that you’ve found for Mr. Tooker’s work. When you can’t get out to the museum, and you’re aching to see the detail, the info about the waiting room in particular was a real help. I know I’ll see an original at some point but in this era of google art project we want it now! And close up! Thank you.

  18. Horrid Henry Avatar
    Horrid Henry

    When I saw these paintings (I’d never heard of Mr. Tooker before) I had an immediate association with the artwork of Thomas Ott, whose black-and-white comics convey exactly the same unsettling and disturbing mood. In fact, even faces of his characters are kind of similar to those of Tooker. Wonder if there was some inspiration on Ott’s part? Anyway, have you ever written a post about Thomas Ott, Charley?

    1. I haven’t. An interesting suggestion, thanks.