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George Tooker

American Painter

George Tooker Photo

Born: August 5th, 1920 - Brooklyn, New York

Died: March 27th, 2011 - Hartland, Vermont

"Symbolism can be limiting and dangerous, but I don't care for art without it."

Summary of George Tooker

George Tooker's eerie and captivating paintings took on art's biggest themes of desire, death, religion, and grief. As a queer artist working in the 1950s, Tooker railed against the established status quo in both his life and art, with his work focusing primarily on critiquing the isolation and disaffection prevalent in an increasingly Capitalist and bureaucratic world. His works combine qualities of Surrealist dreamscapes, political commentary, and Renaissance painting techniques to create disturbing, yet beautiful, images of everyday human struggles.

Key Ideas

As a staunch anti-Capitalist and critic of the government, George Tooker documented the effects of the Depression in the city, and the stranglehold of government imposed red tape and bureaucracy on people's lives as they became increasingly desperate and increasingly de-individualized via officialdom.
Karl Marx's theory if alienation (1932) describes how individuals become estranged from themselves, and others via the Capitalist system and their own social classes. Tooker was himself a communist, and alienation is always present in his works, which multiply faceless or identically faced people, who are often alone and expressionless subjects of an employment or government machine.
Tooker was an out gay man in the 1950s, and his queerness is evidenced by the often androgynous, non-gendered, figures he portrays. Tooker's work also shows an unusual and remarkable empathy for women; while the Surrealists used women as symbols, erotic objects of their own desire, Tooker shows women as equal non-subjects of Capitalism, as well as painting experiences of social anxiety that are particularly linked to femininity (as in his most famous work, The Subway).
Later in life, after the death of his life partner, Tooker moved inwards to works that explore his own internal and spiritual life. Although figures remain central to his work, the city is replaced by the artist's own imaginary life, rife with religious symbolism, particularly around death, grief, and the afterlife.
George Tooker Photo

George Tooker was born on August 5th, 1920 in Brooklyn to George Clair Tooker and Anela Montejo Roura. He had one sister named Mary. His father was of English and French descent and his mother was a mixture of German, English and Spanish-Cuban heritage. His family lived in Brooklyn until he was seven years old, after which his family moved to Bellport, Long Island. He was brought up as a member of the Episcopal Church and was of a middle class background.

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