George Clair Tooker, Jr., American (1920 - 2011)
Born and raised until age seven in
Brooklyn, New York and then in Belleport, Long Island in genteel
upper class surroundings, he became a figure painter whose work
reflects both his privileged circumstances and understanding
of those less comfortable. His subjects, often of mixed sexual
and racial features, are often obscured by heavy clothing and
appear sagging and shapeless, trapped within their own dull
Some critics have described his style as "magic realism," but
he was not interested in the illusionary effects that many of
the painters of that style espouse. He has regarded himself
as more of a reporter or observer of society than an interpreter.
He took art lessons from Barbizon style painter, Malcolm Frazier,
a friend of his mother and then attended Phillips Academy, a
prep school, in Andover, Massachusetts where he had his first
experience with lower classes because of his visits to the nearby
textile community of Lawrence and Lowell.
He went to Harvard University where he studied English Literature
but spent much time at the Fogg Art Museum. He was also active
in socialist conscious organizations and distributed literature
for radical political groups. In 1942, he graduated from Harvard
and then entered the Marine Corps but was discharged due to
a physical problem.
He studied at the Art Students League in New York City, beginning
1943 with Reginald Marsh. He also studied with Kenneth Hayes
Miller and Harry Sternberg and in 1946, began spending time
with Paul Cadmus as friend and pupil. Cadmus encouraged Tooker
to work with tempera rather than the transparent wash technique
taught by Marsh.
Tooker subsequently adopted a method of using egg yolk thickened
slightly with water and then adding powdered pigment, a medium
that was quick drying, tedious to apply, and hard to change
Fascinated by geometric design and symmetry, he works slowly,
completely about two paintings a year because he spends much
time searching for the underlying idea.
From 1965 to 1968, he taught at the Art Students League but
has lived the later part of his life between Hartland, Vermont
and Malaga, Spain. His first one-man exhibition was at the Edwin
Hewitt Gallery in New York in 1951.
He was elected to the National Academy of Design in 1968 and was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In 2007, he was awarded the National Medal of Arts. Tooker lived for many years in Hartland, Vermont.